The Accidental Wisdom of the Heart

More in The Yellow Chair ChronEchols

By Candace Echols

Elizabeth Stone once said, “Making the decision to have a child — it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” 

I don’t know the first thing about Elizabeth Stone. It’s possible I disagree with her on everything else there is in life, who knows. But I can tell you this: there have been a thousand and one midnight moments where that thought of hers danced through my mind like golden truth as I met a sleepless, sick, or crying child in the hallway. Today, I thought about it as I picked up my middle schooler and watched him wave goodbye to the other middle schoolers and I could feel the middle school-ness in the air. Ms. Stone’s phrase was real to me this afternoon as I rescued my three-year-old from, let’s call it a “countertop situation,” and my own heart fell even though she was the one four feet off the floor.

The invisible electric tie between the heart of a parent and that of a child is built-in. As children become more independent – you know, once they aren’t having countertop situations anymore – maybe the tie will become a little less electric. I’m not sure. A parent further along in the journey could tell us for certain, but my hunch is any electricity that diminishes in one area ramps up in others. 

Either way, if Elizabeth Stone is right, our society should benefit from seven billion exposed hearts walking around out there. Meaning, our first brush with wisdom comes when our parents, in a somewhat selfish effort to protect their own hearts, say, “No, dear child. You can’t play near an open fire pit. You might hurt yourself, and then I would hurt too. So, at the very least for the sake of my own heart, I’m going to teach you what to do around fire.” 

It’s a solid backup plan. Even if a parent doesn’t act every time out of perfect love for his or her child (and which of us does?), at least their own selfishness will get them to the needed advice. This accidental wisdom should be acting as a gift to the whole of civilization.

Alas it isn’t so, and we see it every day. We see it when other people act like idiots, made so much worse when we too find ourselves acting like idiots – and in front of our own children at that! We’ve all done it. I have a relative who used to say, “It’s like they had no upbringing!” And, who knows, maybe they didn’t, but maybe they did. 

Either way, no matter how old you are (and really, the older the better because some of that vintage parenting advice was pretty good), remember this: you are somebody’s heart walking around in the world, even if they aren’t here anymore or even if they didn’t know how to tell you. They may not have spoken your love language or maybe things went cool at some point. It’s possible you discovered along the way that they are in fact very human, as all parents are, and their imperfections were exposed in ways that annoy, or grate, or offend. 

And of course, there are situations where things were so dysfunctional that you are better off avoiding anything they ever said. (For the record, if this speaks to you perhaps someone needs to say this to you; so I will do it: I am devastated that this is your situation. I am so, so very sorry. It shouldn’t have been that way. It’s impressive you’re still reading this and an indicator that hope lives somewhere in your tender heart.)

But for many of us, underneath the familial political differences and the communication challenges, below the chasms in preferences and the break in camaraderie, way back when you were falling off countertops and getting picked up two blocks away, your parents taught you some things. No doubt, the delivery could have used polishing and their examples were less than ideal. But their guiding light was most likely love for you.

In these times where nobody seems to know quite how to act (me included, some days — I apologize in advance if I honk when you make me miss the green turn arrow. It’s too much, I know, but I hate missing that arrow), start at the very beginning and think back to your earliest days. Try to recall your father’s teaching about the most basic things and don’t abandon the tiniest of lessons your mother passed on to you. It may come as a surprise, but their tidbits of wisdom are going to make you beautiful to the rest of us. You know those people who become suddenly striking in appearance once you get to know them better and see behind their eyes? You’ll be like that! 

So, remember that you, dear soul, are somebody’s heart walking around outside their body. There was a time early on when they gave you something good, even if their motives weren’t totally right. This is the moment to draw upon that. This is the moment to walk around like you had an upbringing.

StoryBoard features “The Yellow Chair ChronEchols” by writer Candace Echols. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the QuarantineCandace is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair.

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