Tuesday, September 18, 2001

A broken heart still beats

By Laura Pulfer
Cincinnati Enquirer

        He had no idea — none — of the events of a week ago. He only knew I wasn't myself. That I was glum, quiet.

        So, in his way, he tried to cheer me up. First, he blasted me with a gust of morning breath. He nudged me gently. Then he snorted, blowing grass and God-knows-what-else on the front of my clean shirt.

        He's a horse. It's the best he could do.

        I felt a little guilty, to tell the truth. It was the first time I was not either working or slumped in front of the television. No Brady Bunch or Seinfeld reruns at our house. All news, all the time.

        And, of course, we read. Newspapers. Magazines. The books have yet to be written. But I looked anyway because, although I sometimes get the facts electronically, I generally find the truth in print.

        Intolerable loss

A friend recommended a book, already written, which she said might be helpful. And it was. A Broken Heart Still Beats by Mary Semel and Anne McCracken is about intolerable loss. The two women assembled the anthology after the sudden death of their sons. The book includes the the painful truth from poets, novelists, philosophers, journalists and humorists.

        Journalist Anna Quindlen: “And I write my obituaries carefully and think about how little the facts suffice, not only to describe the dead but to tell what they mean to the living all the rest of our lives. We are defined by who we have lost.”

        We do not yet know all of those we lost on Sept. 11. Their loved ones have the unspeakable task of providing photographs and dental records, DNA from hairbrushes and toothbrushes.

        I wish I could tell their stories. The beautiful 4-year-old girl on her way to meet Mickey Mouse. The fireman who loved riding his motorcycle. The Miami University grad. All of them. If I wrote one story a week, it would take a hundred years. More than a hundred years.

        I ran away to the stable. Just for a few hours.

        Natural therapy

For once, my horse stood quietly as I scraped a week's mud from his black coat. He frisked me for apples and carrots, and the knot between my shoulders, the one I collected hunched over a computer, loosened. A little.

        A soccer game was in progress at a field nearby. Noisy. Normal. Deep in the woods, deer flipped across the trail and crows cawed a challenge to the line of horses and riders. If the birds wonder what we are doing here, it is something we also have asked ourselves.

        Is it disrespectful to leave the news behind? Trivial? Isn't this far too pleasant? But midway through the ride, an astonishing thing happened. Peace. Something I looked for in church and in the company of friends, I found in the middle of a natural cathedral.

        Maybe others have found that same thing on a soccer field or a racquetball court.

        “An awful leisure,” Emily Dickinson once called what the living have after death. So, are we still allowed to have fun? Indulge our hobbies? Resume life? Can our broken hearts still beat?

        What better way can we reassure ourselves that those we have lost “define us” more truly than those who have taken them away?

        Kiss your kids. Paint a picture. Pick up a tennis racquet. Run. Walk. Kick a ball. Throw a ball. Mow the lawn. Plant a tree. Golf. Shop. Eat pastry. Rev up your motorcycle. Play a game. Tell a joke. Without guilt.

        Consider it an act of defiance.

        Or an act of love.
       E-mail Laura at lpulfer@enquirer.com or call 768-8393.


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