She sits against my shoulder, a tiny hand with pink fingernails laid against my sternum. She’s finally stopped screaming and has dropped off to sleep. My arm is tired, but I will not move her even if I lose all feeling in my hand. This moment, it’s too important.

She is my friends’ daughter, Ila. She arrived here from Haiti a few months ago, almost three years after she was “given” to my friends as their daughter. Today, she has an earache and has been whimpering and crying all day – in pain and without English to tell anyone what hurts. She has communicated all her pain as powerfully as she can. Now, she sleeps in my arms, and I am blessed to be here for the silence and for the screaming.

Meanwhile, her two brothers bounce around the room. Mathis and his mom kick the soccer ball toward the goal while I play ref. “Go,” I say to signal the throw-in; “Hand ball,” Mathis and I shout at the same time. He’s recovered nicely from his sore tooth which gave him so much pain when he ate dinner. A bite of quesadilla brought tears to his eyes. I know how that feels, I thought; sometimes even the simplest action can bring me to tears, too.

Jonas, his 18 month old body still a little head-heavy, toddles around with balls of his own. I put a sweatshirt over his head, and his mom tells me to poke him in the stomach – his giggle is like fire catching pine needles to light – infectious, powerful, beautiful.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live from my heart – what does it meant to be truly who I was made to be? What does it mean to love like I have no fear? What responsibility, if any, do I have to protect my heart? Can I just sew this heart of mine on my sleeve and live with myself fully exposed? Is that wise? Do I have a choice?

You see, I’m a person who tends to speak my feelings quickly. I’m not good at playing games or making political choices. I just say what I mean and, as best I can, I try to mean what I say. Sometimes – okay, often – this gets me in trouble, but I don’t know another way to be. This seems to be, for better or worse, who I am.

In writing, I can revise, edit, trim, rewrite when my feelings change or when I have more insight. Perhaps this is why I prefer to write rather than to talk – I can stop myself before the words reach someone else.

But last night, as Ila slept in my arms and Mathis and Jonas lived themselves out there in the world, I wondered what would happen if I lived like that – what if I screamed (metaphorically at least) when I was in pain? What if I cried when I hurt? What if I laughed so hard that the room caught fire? What would that mean for me? What if my writing worked this way, too? What if the words wore emotion like a garish jacket?

I’m not sure what the answer is – too live too loudly or too quietly? Is there balance? But at least on the page, perhaps, I should safety pin my heart to my arm and let it speak for itself.

Heartfire

There is all this untouched beauty. The light the dark both running through me – Over the Rhine