The heart outside my body

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Making the decision to have a child - it's momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.
-Elizabeth Stone

I've heard a lot of people say that having a child is like having your heart walk around outside your body. It's never really been something I've understood. I mean, it's a nice sentiment (although also a very frightening one), but never something I've been able to relate to on a personal level. For a long time, I tried--I thought that's what love was, finding part of yourself outside of you, in someone else. That's why I got so hung up on the Origin of Love song and story from Hedwig, I think. In my newer understanding of love, this splitting up of the self isn't necessary. I can love someone as much as I love Mark and still not see my heart walking around outside my body when I look at him. And so, I thought it must only apply to having a child, and I put the thought away.

Last night, as I was trying to sleep, it occured to me that I do understand. When Chance was dying, when I leaned over him, still mostly unconcious from the last in his string of surgeries, and told him that I loved him forever, no matter what happened, I felt as though I was speaking to my own heart, stuck outside my body, and bleeding. And when we lost him, for some time it was like losing the only thing inside me that breathed, the only thing that lived. I know that's going to sound completely melodramatic to those of you who have never felt that way about a dog, or that some may even take the corrolation between dogs and kids that I am making as a personal affront, but frankly, that's just too bad. This is how it is for me, and whether or not you can understand that is really not my problem. I have loved many people in my life, and I have never felt that any of them embodied my missing heart. But my dog did.

And my dog does. When I look at Leo now, I do see my heart walking around outside my body. It's not the missing-piece-of-me feeling I expected to have--it's something completely different. It's knowing that another beautiful, perfect creature is dependent on you (and whether you know it or not, you are dependant on him). The gentleness, and fragileness, and complete loyalty could only come from one's own heart. Another person isn't capable of that, at least not beyond early childhood. But a dog is.

Maybe a parent-child relationship is like that as well. I don't know, and it's likely I never will. But that doesn't bother me anymore. In my way, I understand. I understand loving someone like they are a part of you, maybe the best part of you. I understand the risk that comes with that, the grief. It's not a decision I made knowingly the first time--I walked into it unaware, as I imagine happens often to parents. But now I do know, and I know that the love is worth the grief, and that whatever time I have with these embodiments of my heart is priceless.

3 Comments

I believe I understand what you are saying - and feeling. Although in my life there have been cats making me feel like that, And when my soulmate died, the best cat in the whole world, I thought I would never heal. And maybe I never will. But it felt so good when my newest cat, now 3 years old, started tugging at my heartstrings.

Leo is giving you the sweetest, most loving look in that picture.

The picture of you and Chance is great - I totally understand what you're talking about. The loss of my dog Trixie(who my grandmother got for me when I was 18 in 1985 and who stuck with me until 1998) was something that sent me into a spiral. I never wanted another pet, ever. My son was devastated, my husband, the family was grieving. It took me years before I was able to consider another pet. Now we have Jak, who is wonderful, and when he had to have back surgery and I thought for a while he might die, well, it was the worst feeling ever. As a mother of a child and a dog, I don't think you're being overly dramatical. It's just like having two kids - you love each one differently.

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