Only the Broken Heart can Expand

My heart is sore today. The pain is raw and it feels as if a giant chasm of emptiness stretches out in front of me. The loss of my gentle companion, a feline that provided me immeasurable comfort and joy for years and in some of my darkest hours, has struck me deeper than I imagined. There are layers to this pain, indeed. But our modern life often robs us of the agency to express our pain or sorrow out of fear of judgement or ridicule, especially when it is related to the loss of a non-human being. It is all too often trivialized. And this trivialization has become normalized.

But of course, I am reminded that this is the same societal paradigm that has trivialized the living biosphere itself. It is a pathology which has allowed for its wholesale destruction for the accumulation of coin and the lure of convenience for the few. If the cries of the billions of species it crushes under its busy, productive feet were made audible, the entire human species would be permanently deafened from the colossal lament.

Whenever I am in pain, I retreat to the world of imagination, and music, and art. Today I came across this self portrait of Frida Kahlo done in 1940. I have a small replica I bought as a souvenir in Mexico City years ago. As is the case with most of Kahlo’s paintings, this one is drenched in symbolism.

The hummingbird, usually a symbol of life and vitality, is dead and hanging from a necklace of thorns. Thorns which pierce Frida’s delicate skin. Perhaps it is reminiscent of Christ’s crown of thorns and the pain he suffered carrying the weight of the world’s sorrows. Or perhaps it is Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war, and perhaps it is its weight that is causing her injury. And the butterflies and dragonflies on her head may be symbols of resurrection or renewal. But the neckless is being held by a black monkey, perhaps a symbol of the indifferent torment she endured throughout her life. And a black cat, one very much the appearance of the dear loved one I just lost, stands just to the back of her. Although she is undoubtedly in pain from the thorns, Frida stands calmly, stoically, as if daring the world to hurt her more.

As I pondered the meaning of this portrait I thought about her life, one fraught with disappointment, rejection, grief and extreme physical pain from a horrendous streetcar accident when she was only 18 years old. Along with a tumultuous relationship with artist Diego Rivera, she had to endure at least 35 agonizing surgeries on her spine and body throughout her entire life. She was often bedridden for months at a time. And yet there she is, staring it all down. Through the pain into quiet dignity. Frida actually had a monkey and a black cat, among other animals, birds and plants. I marveled at the many photographs of her holding them and caring for them when I visited her home, Casa Azul, in Mexico City.

Frida lived her life as an open wound, open for the world to see. She displayed her pain as one would display an accessory to wear out to the market or to a concert. It was beautiful because it was true. And this gave me a peculiar sort of strength. We cannot traverse this terrestrial plane without facing pain, and loss, and sorrow. Again and again and again. Bursting through the walls of our heart. These are the very signatures of life and of love. And in a time of unprecedented ecocide and endless assaults on our biosphere by a society unable to face or grapple with its demons and shadows, continuously numbed by distraction, and spectacle, and avarice, and substances, and cruelty, and materialism, unable to feel its pain, we are called to do just that. Face it. And express our pain, and loss, and sorrow. Publicly. Daring the world to hurt us again. Because, without a doubt, it will. It will break your heart. But remember this, it is only the broken heart that has the capacity to expand.

Kenn Orphan December 2020

3 thoughts on “Only the Broken Heart can Expand

  1. Holygeezer

    Thank you so much for expanding your broken heart for us to see. I was literally reading this to my partner when our cat Marty who was on my lap stretched out and kept rubbing his face against mine. I was eventually able to finish reading it in between Marty’s love. We actually adopted Marty a year ago, who we found in our local cat sanctuary. He had a really rough start as the only surviving kitten in the outdoors. He was not expected to make it, but a retired emergency room nurse fostered him with IV’s and such. We came across him a couple years later at the sanctuary. We couldn’t touch him for five months after we brought him home (this after we spent two months getting to know him as he let us pet him freely at the sanctuary), but now he loves our laps, and loves to rub on my face and beard. Marty is primarily a snow shoe Siamese. Marty has the sweetest temperament of any sentient being I have ever known. We love him dearly and know what a painful loss you have. Thanks again for your writing from your soul.

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  2. Diane Lesher

    I am so sorry for your loss. In many ways animals may be even more important in our lives then even a lover or partner. We can talk to them and they portray unconditional love- They just look up at you with their curious eyes, letting you know they hear you and understand. They say nothing and let you pour out your heart and soul to them. Therefore, when they’re gone the silence and aloneness can be deafening. Luckily, you have a loving partner and another furry loved one to do that with. And, you have your art and others to help ease the pain. I instantly thought of Memur in Frieda’s painting. It’s quite amazing, indeed. Take care, my friend. From one animal lover to another, I wish you all peace and happy reminiscences. ❤️

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