Two years ago, I had two hearts beating beneath my own.
I was overwhelmed most of the pregnancy, to be honest. Worry multiplies with multiples. How would we care for two babies at once? What would life look like with five kids?
Deeper, darker questions slid underneath, slimy and squirming. How could I love them all well? Would I lose myself?
I worried about the wrong things. Most of us do, most of the time.
Two weeks later, their tiny hearts were beating outside my body. Each fighting to keep pumping: one with too much blood, one with too little. Trapped inside giant isolettes, wrapped in plastic and tubes, poked and prodded, too much and too little.
Neither heart strong enough to survive.
A week later we held two tiny urns. Hearts to ashes.
. . .
Everyone we love will die. Of course you don’t want to read that; I don’t want to write it; no one wants to believe it.
But it is truth. Can we hold it between steady hands? Look it straight in the face? Even see beyond?
The beloved we kiss before bed tonight. The children who burst through the door this afternoon, sugared and sticky, valentines fluttering.
Remember that you are dust. And unto dust you shall return.
The mistake is thinking dust is the end. Go back to the beginning.
Dust is always the beginning.
. . .
Our hearts become ash before their end, too. Smoldered by sin, singed with selfishness.
The chalky smudge left when we choose not to love. (And whom among us does not fail to do this daily, I do, I do.)
Yet the awe of these hearts! Miracles of muscle, sinew of strength. We do nothing to keep them going, yet they take us everywhere – and more than that, they are the essential metaphor: love, center, warmth, core, life!
Hearts are the fullness of flesh. Animated by laughter, widened by compassion. What we are called to be, by the One whose heart is Sacred.
The Heart that did not turn to ash or decay to dust in the tomb. The Sacred, still-beating mystery of flesh, like ours but love Beyond.
How does the divine do what it does: animating each being with beating heart, keep the stars spinning, create wonder from dust?
I stand mute. And let a stranger smear ashes on my skin.
. . .
A Wednesday of ashes. A day of valentines.
This is a feast of humanity in its fullness. Sin and love. All that we can be and do.
I have been their mother, the two who are gone. I did all I could do. Their hearts are now ash, and their souls wait for glorious bodies.
Whatever I understand of that feels faint as grey dust traced on flesh, fading from the forehead even as the words are uttered. Mystery on the other side.
All I can say is Amen.
Which today means love. And forgiveness. And enough.
. . .
We love people whose hearts are flesh and whose hearts are ashes. This is mystery, too: the communion of saints, living here and loving beyond.
Back in the heart of God which – if I dare to speak of it, if I dare to name where I thought we were that day – is the thrumming Joy of everything.
The miracle was love, center, warmth, core – every metaphor flaps and fails because the Joy was beyond.
All I want to do is return There.
Even now, return to me with your whole heart.
Every year I hear these words and I cannot hear them without breaking open. Even now, rend your hearts; rich in kindness, slow to anger; gather your children, and the infants at the breast; and the Lord was stirred, and took pity on his people.
Even now. When hearts become ashes.
We were made to burn. But we were made to rise.