MINESTRONE FOR THE SOUL
“The black heart is a result of the unknown. Walk the street of the unknown with your head up, instead of fearing it, and your black heart will float away.” -My husband Antonio
Sometimes, your heart is so heavy that you can’t lift it up no matter your physical prowess or how hard you try. You slow down, but everything around you speeds up. You have what my Italian father has named the cuore nero, which is Italian for black heart. It’s how he describes bouts of anxiety that can debilitate you. There’s this overwhelming sensation that attacks you in the pit of your gut and makes you so certain a black cloud hangs directly over your head, so certain the worst is on the horizon that you can’t sleep. You can’t eat. You can’t love.
When the black heart strikes at Christmas, you sink extra deep because happiness magnifies sadness and sadness magnifies happiness. You end up feeling as though you’ve been wrapped and stuffed in one of the gift boxes. You have no voice. You can’t can’t breathe. No one is saving you. Even the warm lights aglow and the twinkle in Santa’s eye are not enough to snap you out of it. Try as they might.
This is not news to you. I once turned to social media to see lovely images of long lost friends and far away family celebrating milestones with their photos of smiling babies, grandparents dancing the Tarantella, newlyweds sharing a kiss. Now, when I open my Facebook feed, it’s awash in devastation, replete with beloved family members who have passed away, gripping illnesses tearing up families, and general discontent.
If ever there was a year to have the blackest of hearts it was miserable 2016. Many wonderfully talented people died, including but not limited to Prince, Nancy Reagan, Alan Thicke, the last American hero and frontiersman John Glenn, and the list goes on and on. It’s crushing, really. Those were big blows to the cultural psyche. Of course, the other elephant in the room is the elephant in the White House. Half the country is excited about the change afoot with soon-to-be President Donald J. Trump. But the other half is terrified. The Trump supporters are offended by their fears. And the others are shocked by the lack of empathy and recognition for their feelings. We’ve laid our open wounds on the table, and now we’re all just poking at them constantly. Those carrying the impossibly heavy black heart can’t help but wonder if infection is coming. After all, we all know of a house divided.
Truly, really, honestly, that’s not what the black heart is about though. It’s far more personal than the political or cultural zeitgeist. It’s about what’s going on in your home, head, and heart. For me, this was the year that I realized I have been lost for a while, the year after my grandfather died in front of me and I had to finally confront the crazy in my brain, the year I questioned my career, the year some of my core beliefs about how hard work and discipline would carry me further even if I didn’t have enough followers on Facebook or Twitter would shatter, the year so many bad things happened to so many good people in my life. It was the year of a profound loss of innocence, perhaps, the last layer of it as I inch ever closer to 40.
Now, it’s Christmastime. I’m supposed to be happy. Things are turning around for me, in fact. I have a 5-year-old son, who thinks Christmas is the best thing since last Christmas. He giggles with glee at the sight of any Santa anywhere, sings holiday songs about snow falling, menorahs lighting, dreidels spinning, and bells jingling like a broken record. He has full-fledged conversations with us. That’s huge. You probably don’t realize how huge, but I know. He did not speak a word until a year and a half ago, and in the last few months the change has been dramatic. Something clicked, and now my son suddenly is a chatterbox, who knows his letters and numbers and all these songs. So many songs. Every sound he utters is my Christmas music. It is the greatest gift in the history of ever, and yet I am barely able to hold up this black heart. The eggnog should be enhancing my buzz, but there’s no buzz to be found. What gives?
It’s almost as if I’m afraid to get happy, afraid it will all go away. Then what? Sink deeper? Feel darker? Never sleep again? The other day I confided in my husband, who has read my sadness and has wallowed a bit with me because it’s contagious like that. I told him of this black heart. He told me I was simply fearing the unknown, with some of the uncharted waters I’m swimming in for work and our son, who will soon be transitioning into a general education class before moving onto kindergarten with new kids, who haven’t faced the challenges he has.
I have to let go, so he can grow, even though my very nature is telling me to keep him in my safe arms forever. I have to let go for my work. I have to let go, so we can both breathe again. I have to let go for him. I have to let go for me.
The thing is I’m appreciating myself least of all. I’ve forgotten my talents, my strengths, my dedication, my power. The words will come. The work will come. They always do. “The black heart is a result of the unknown. Walk the street of the unknown with your head up, instead of fearing it, and your black heart will float away,” said my husband. He reminded me that it is we who hold onto our black heart. It is we who must let it go. That is when we will have our true Christmas.