I had a patient (let’s call her Delilah) who stole another patient’s identity (call her Lily). Delilah contacted Lily and got to know her. They became friends. Delilah convinced Lily that I was soon to divorce my wife and marry her, Delilah, since she was pregnant with my child. Furthermore, we were moving to London and setting up a practice there and we had talked and decided that we would like to offer Lily the job of office manager. No need to talk with me since Delilah was handling all the arrangements.
I found out about this when Lily, suitcase and child in hand, called my office from Heathrow Airport asking where the driver was who was to pick her up. She had sold pretty much everything she had and what she hadn’t sold, Delilah electronically emptied into her pockets. Delilah was a travel agent and so had gotten all Lily’s credit card information in the deal. This is a true story, and not the only story I could tell you about Delilah’s wily ways. She has since disappeared having skipped bail.
I have a friend who says that he wears titanium armor most of the time. Very few people get to see what is in his heart–too painful, personal, scary. I relate to that. What is a bit weird about that is that what is in my heart is hardly ever scandalous–it is just full of feelings. Anytime I have honestly shared a feeling with an aware, safe person, it is met with grace.
My thoughts and ideas on the other hand…different world up in my brain. I can generate the most ridiculous fantasies, from murders to menage a trois, within instants, and they pass through the revolving door of my consciousness, often not staying long–sometimes staying long enough to get to be a regular.
I think many people mistake their thoughts for their feelings. We assume that our crazy (read: human) thoughts have to be revealed in order to be honest and knowable. I don’t think so. My thoughts wander. A lot. They are in need of good editing and that is as it should be. You have yours, I have mine. We can share them when it feels fun/right/useful. Ultimately though, what you think, even what you think of me, is none of my business. But if I want you to ”know” me, that involves opening up the world of my feelings. That is the part of me that needs to be seen in order for you to feel connected to me. That is my heart.
Example: if I come home from work and Rose asks about my day and I tell her that I did two hernias and a gallbladder and the bleeding was minimal and I think the patients will be fine, although the anatomy was a little unusual, that is a story that gets old if repeated–possibly even if told the first time. If I can muster the courage to say that I felt scared when I encountered anatomy I had never seen before during the gallbladder operation, and I had to draw on memories from my training years ago and that I was really relieved when it all worked out, but I was shaken to my core…that story has handles that Rose can latch on to to connect with me, to say she understands that feeling, has been there herself in this or that way. She has a place to then say she can be there for me if I want. You get the idea. The heart is where the handles are for the people we love to hold on to us.
The stories that our minds want to follow can lead us in crazy directions, even to the other side of the world, penniless and duped. Judging a person’s character requires the combination of knowing their edited thoughts as well as what they can give you of their heart. Even in business decisions it is possible ( I think necessary) to look for the place of the heart as well as the mind. Both. I have gotten burned the other way as well, just following my desire for a good feeling or being suckered by someone making me feel good and turning my brain off. Balance both.
In my world, it starts with me, honestly opening a little chink in the titanium armor around the real me, the part that feels. Of course, my mind will do its usual cart wheels and you are welcome to join in that fun, but be looking for me to give you the juice. How will you know? I don’t know. I guess like Judge Potter Stewart said while sitting on the Supreme Court and trying to define obscenity,
”I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced . . . but I know it when I see it.”
photo: Sculpture Garden, New Orleans Museum Modern Art, 2009, Nikon D100, natural light