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Hearts Made to Repair Themselves

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When I saw the recent headline on BBC’s website “Hearts made to repair themselves,” I misunderstood the topic of the article and immediately clicked on it. It turned out to be an article about how a new drug can prompt the heart to repair itself after a heart attack. Even though it didn’t say what I was hoping it would say, which is that hearts were already naturally designed to heal themselves, I still found myself thinking “Wow, if they could make a drug that did that for heartbreak, they’d make millions.”

On thinking about it, though, I realized: hearts are designed to naturally, albeit perhaps slowly, heal themselves. Think about a heartbreak—whether romantic or otherwise—that happened to you in the past. Think about how painful it was in the beginning, and how it feels now, years later. Even if it’s still somewhat tender, chances are that it’s not nearly as painful as it once was, and that you’ve managed to move on in most ways in your life. You’ve found other partners or lovers, you’ve gotten a new job, you’ve developed a life in spite of a bad childhood, abusive parents, or other major traumas, you’ve been able to laugh again, enjoy yourself, and even to forget about the pain much of the time.

One thing we do know about heartbreak is that we can’t feel it if we don’t have a heart. And if we have a heart, it will be broken, often stunned, sometimes for years, with the pain of something that went wrong. But for most of us, slowly, determinedly, incrementally, the heart grows strong again, sometimes even against our will. There have been times after breakups when I started to feel a bit better, and actually didn’t want to, because it meant that I was truly letting go of that old relationship. It almost seemed to indicate that that old relationship hadn’t been important, if it could be gotten over. But the heart wants to feel whole again, and if we let it be, it will. We can inhibit this healing process by letting ourselves stew in grief, anger, self-pity, or stories about how wonderful things were back then, the way a wound will fester if we don’t clean it out, remove the foreign bodies, and change the bandages regularly.

I just came back from New Orleans, where people are still traumatized from Katrina, still lose sleep, still experience panic and anxiety, incredible grief, anger, stress and heartbreak, are still facing the devastating effects of this national tragedy, such as the loss of loved ones, jobs, money, career, and family heirlooms, not to mention a trust in the systems they thought would never fail them. But even with this incredible amount of loss, there is still music to be played and enjoyed, wonderful food to be cooked and eaten, weddings to be celebrated, art to create, and futures to mold. The people have survived an ordeal, but they still laugh, even if the laughter is slower to come now.

As with any physical wound, if we care for our hearts—both physically and emotionally—they will heal and become strong again, ready to take risks again, ready to see the beauty and the joy around us again. I still think if drug manufacturers could make a drug that would do this for us, they’d make millions, but maybe something would be lost if we could immediately forget our pain, the way the characters in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind realized that they didn’t want to give up their memories of their love even though things didn’t work out. In order to feel the joy, we must open ourselves to the pain. But, luckily, hearts are meant to heal themselves, and they will, if we let them.

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