Valentine’s day is coming up in a few days, again, already. Was it really a whole year ago that I created the “53 Reasons I Love You” gift for Don? Phew! That was a time-consuming project, but I’m happy to report he still has it sitting where he can see it each day when he wakes up.
Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about hearts and love in a not-very-traditional Valentine way.
I find myself using the term, “bless your heart” with a certain amount of frequency these days. I don’t know when it started. I don’t know why it started. I DO know it makes me feel old, like I should be hunched over my cane, shuffling slowly, shawl around my shoulders, shaky voice uttering, “Well, bless your heart” when a boy scout offers to help me cross the street (do they still do that?).
This sudden tendency to throw heart-blessings around like day-old pieces of bread being tossed to the birds makes me wonder why, at this stage of my life, the phrase flows so often and so naturally.
So, I did what I always do when I have questions about human nature, or want to see a cute cat video…I hit the internet. Image my shock when the top Google result to “bless your heart” (which came from the Urban Dictionary) read:
1. This is a term used by the people of the southern United States particularly near the Gulf of Mexico to express to someone that they are an idiot without saying such harsh words.
2. “You are an idiot but I like you and care about you so I don’t want to hurt your feelings.”
Wh-a-a-a-t? Do people think I think they’re idiots?
I hit the back-arrow to check out the second result. “Southern Insults 101: Things Your Mama Taught You”.
OMGoodness. A few days ago, I sent a text to my parish priest, which included the words “bless your heart”. Gulp.
Next on Google’s list was a blog post titled, “The Many Nuances of ‘Bless Your Heart’” where the author strongly suggests the phrase “not be used by people who don’t understand it”.
Wait. Apparently, that’s me. I might be going to hell.
Then it dawned on me. I don’t live in the south! Well, at least, not anymore! I spent a couple years in Atlanta, and some time in West Monroe, Louisiana, but that was more than 40 years ago! The only thing south about me now, is the fact that I live 110 miles south of the Canadian border, which makes me a way-northerner!
I remember hearing the phrase, “Bless your pea-pickin’ heart” as a child. I asked Google about that and up popped information on Tennessee Ernie Ford, who recorded an album of that name in 1966. Apparently the words were his catch-phrase.
I’m pretty sure I’m not looking to establish a catch phrase. Besides, most of my heart-blessings don’t even happen face-to-face. I’m prone to muttering them to myself when I see oldsters in parking lots and stores, or at church. I do a fair share of silent heart-blessings at my very part-time job taking patient food-orders at Sacred Heart Hospital.
As I sit here, reflecting on the silent and spoken heart-blessings I’ve sent into the universe lately, I think I now recognize them for what they are. In the fourteen years we were a licensed adult family home, we cared for 13 oldsters in this house. Some were with us for months. Some were with us for years. Some had attentive family. Some had no one. I know the fear and the indignities of aging in this society. So when I see an oldster struggling to do what once came easily to him or her, it can make my heart ache. That’s empathy; understanding and sharing feeling.
When I answer the phone at work and a tired mother is on the other end, trying to order something, anything, that her sick child might finally eat and keep down, I understand her exhaustion, I hear her fear, and I remember what it felt like to have a child sick enough to be in the hospital.
These days, even the grumpy, rude, demanding, old man who calls to order food…the same man who, just months ago, might have bumped up against my ego silently screaming “who the hell do you think you are talking to me like that?”…can elicit empathy because I know what it’s like to have a body-part fail. I know what it’s like to have your future/fate put in the hands of virtual strangers. I can see through his disguise and feel the fear.
Empathy is my heart wanting to bolster-up your heart to help it deal with the struggle-at-hand. I can’t make you younger. I can’t make you healthier. But I can ask the heavens to bless your heart with the courage and grace to carry on. That’s what I’m doing.
So, why this surge of empathy now? Is it a right-of-passage? Have I now gained the life-experience necessary for empathy? I know young people who are empathetic. My daughter is one. Is it a sign of spiritual growth? Is empathy a natural by-product of realizing that we are all more alike than different; that we are connected in ways we don’t fully realize; that the same God who lives in me, lives in you?
I don’t know and I’m not going to spend any more brain-power trying to figure it out. Because, however I got here, I like empathetic-me. An empathetic heart is softer and kinder than one filled with prejudice. An empathetic heart wants to understand, not judge. An empathetic heart wants to love, not hate. In the quest to be the best me I can be, I’ll take this empathetic heart and be grateful for it!
So, should I toss a “bless your heart” your way one of these days, please take it as the verbal hug it’s meant to be. I think you’re brilliant!