His Heart Broke Open

Jack has had one health issue after another since we got out here to Arizona last August. The most recent hospitalization was four weeks ago when he got a blood clot in his leg. They performed surgery and he eventually went to rehab.

He was in tremendous pain at first (there were complications to his recovery) and sometimes he was in despair, but as time went by he got a little better, so much so that one day he was able to walk (on a rolling walker) to the small lunchroom where the other rehab patients had their meal.

A lovely nurse named Theresa took him that first day. They stood at the entrance of the room. She said with her beautiful Irish accent, “Where would you like to sit, Jack?”

Jack looked around the room and saw a great big bear of a man sitting alone at a table. He was in his late sixties, early seventies with white hair. He had his head down and he wasn’t eating.

Jack said, “I’d like to sit with him.”

Theresa took him over to the table and Jack sat down. He said, “Hi, my name is Jack.”

The big man didn’t look up. He mumbled low, “I’m Ray, but I don’t talk much.”

Jack said, “That’s no problem.”

Theresa started asking Jack questions about his life, what he’d done for a living and so on. Jack began talking and, after a little while, started telling funny stories. Pretty soon, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ray’s head shaking. He looked over and Ray, though he still had his head down, was laughing.

And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Ray grew up on an Indian Reservation in Arizona and became a physician’s assistant. He’d had brain surgery and was having trouble learning to walk again. The reason he was so down was because the only person he ever loved (besides his grandmother who brought him up) was his wife and she was in another hospital with a blood disorder. He didn’t know when he’d be able to see her again, or even if they’d ever be able to live together again.

After lunch, when Jack returned to his room, he told me this story and how Ray put his big mitt of a hand on his shoulder before he left and said how much Jack helped him that day.

When Jack told me this, he cried.

I cried, too, not just from the story but because Jack never cries.

Every day at lunch, Jack and Ray talked about their lives and connected. Ray told Jack stories from his youth–how his grandmother taught him to revere the spirit in everything: the trees, the earth, a stone, a bird, how, once upon a time, his hair was black and so long it fell to his waist.

Sometimes Ray wasn’t there and Jack would sit with another patient, Margaret, and he’d make her laugh, too. She told him that he was helping her with his positive attitude and funny stories.

When Jack told me that, he cried again.

Jack has cried every single day since that first day with Ray—for any number of reasons: when touched by a person or a story or a kindness.

He said he’s never felt so much love for others, whether strangers, friends or family, as he does now.

It’s the most amazing thing. He never cried before. Never talked about loving people. He was always so macho, so tough: a Chicago firefighter and Teamster from the South Side of Chicago.

And he still is macho and tough—but now, it’s as if his heart has broken open in the most magical, wonderful way.

I love that he cries and encourage him to continue letting it out whenever the tears well up. Not only does it cleanse the soul and release cortisol, but maybe, just maybe, it might help heal his Congestive Heart Failure—if by any chance one reason he has it is because he kept a lifetime of tears locked inside his heart.

I can’t believe such a wonderful thing came from such a long stretch of darkness and suffering.

Now that’s a real Christmas gift!!

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