Tenderhearted. It’s a word I’ve heard all my life, used to refer to someone who is particularly sensitive and empathetic towards others, someone who “takes things to heart” and feels deeply.
This definition would certainly describe me; I sense easily (and sometimes take on) the feelings and moods of both people and places. My former husband used to tease me because I always get so involved in movies—flinching at violence or crying over a sad ending. He would say, “It’s just a movie, Viki.” And I would always reply, “Yes, but if they’re doing their job, I forget that!”
During the past week, the word tenderhearted has come to mind repeatedly and has definitely described me, but in a different way. For reasons both clear and not so clear, my heart has felt tender—raw and open and ultrasensitive. It’s been like walking around with my heart outside my body…no protection, no filters, feelings moving through it completely unchecked and unedited. I’ve teetered on the edge of tears all week and finally slipped over that edge, spilling tears as I sat having lunch with a friend with whom I knew my fragile, weepy heart was safe.
Perhaps my currently tender heart comes from it having been stretched (at least for the moment) to the limits of its ability to hold all the emotions of the past year, particularly those of the last few months. My feelings have zipped from fear to elation to despair to joy and back so many times since early spring—yet my heart has bounced back again and again. It has held closely my deep, unspoken longings—some fulfilled, some not, some still hoped for—and managed to carry me forward each step of the way, even when some of those steps were difficult.
I remember taking a test once that measured stress levels in relationship to health. The test involved checking off life events or circumstances you’d been through in the last year. Each of the items was given a number value, and you added up your total score to see how much stress you were under, which determined how much at risk you were for your health to be affected. What I found most interesting about the test was that positive events like “getting married” were often given the same number value as negative events like “getting divorced.” It was the first time I’d thought about the fact that positive changes were still changes, and that any change can be stressful.
I’ve been through a lot of changes in the past year, some of them pretty challenging, but many of them very positive. I have much to be thankful for, and I’m so glad to be where I am right now, both literally and figuratively. But even though my heart isn’t heavy, nor is it discouraged, I do feel its weariness. And although I’m not quite sure how to give it what it needs, I think getting quiet and listening to my heart is probably a very good thing to do right now. I have a feeling it will find a way to let me know.