The Contents of a Heart
He is red-hot angry. “When Mama dies, I’m going after him with everything I have. I’m going to make him pay.”
“You’re seventy years old.” I tell him this because I like him and because I adore his mother, my patient.
Her son, this man, furious because he believes his brother has stolen from the family, has told me how splendid his life is, how he’s been married for forty-nine years to a woman he loves completely, how he has a successful business, a wonderful family, how they’ve traveled the world enjoying great adventures. “So,” he snaps, “what does my age have to do with anything?”
“Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned working as a hospice chaplain it’s that life is short. Do you really want to spend your time consumed by this anger? Do you really want your life to be about that?”
In his book, The Exquisite Risk, Mark Nepo writes about an Egyptian myth that explains an end of life ritual. The Trial of Heart is a ceremony in which the heart of every deceased person is weighed on a scale, balanced against one ostrich feather, the symbol of truth. If the heart is lighter than the feather, it is believed that the person did not recognize and honor truth, that it demonstrated a life not fully experienced. If the heart weighs more than the feather then it has carried too much. It has held onto the painful truths, giving them too much weight. The ceremony reveals the contents of one’s heart and unless the heart is balanced, the soul is unable to enter into eternal peace.
We cannot dictate all of the circumstances of our lives. We cannot control all of the things that enter and exit. People we love harm and help us and sometimes we are left flattened by the choices they make that deeply affect us. We cannot orchestrate all of this. We can, however, choose what we hold and what we let go. And we make those choices every day of our lives, from ages seven to seventy and beyond.
I’m not sure I believe there is a court of the dead waiting to measure the contents of our hearts; but I do believe that no heart can fully experience peace unless there is true balance, unless there is equality in what is gained and in what is surrendered. I do believe that if a person picks up and hangs onto anger, the heart has no room for love.
I have no idea what this troubled brother will choose, where he will ultimately land. I can only hope that when the day of death comes for him, as it will come for us all, that his last breath is taken with ease because he knows his heart is at peace, because he has chosen forgiveness, because he has surrendered to love. And I hope when we face our own days of death, it may be so for us all.
You are the light of the world!
PS. NMCC is in need of office space. We're a two person staff, preferably looking for church space. If you have any ideas, please let me know! Thank you!