Your Heart Can Break Open Without Breaking Apart

Tuesday, July 18, 2017 - 4:32 pm
John Thompson, a friend and former colleague of Philando Castile, is embraced after speaking on the steps of the Minnesota State Capitol building on June 16, 2017 in St Paul, Minnesota.

Your Heart Can Break Open Without Breaking Apart

Who among us hasn’t known heartbreak?

There’s the child who suffers from bullying, the young adult who suffers from unrequited love, the person in midlife who sees a marriage or a career fail, the elder who endures the death of the one closest to his or her heart.

Here’s a brief but powerful poem by Gregory Orr about the heart that’s been broken open, not broken apart.

“Some Say You’re Lucky”
by Gregory Orr

Some say you’re lucky
If nothing shatters it.

But then you wouldn’t
Understand poems or songs.
You’d never know
Beauty comes from loss.

It’s deep inside every person:
A tear tinier
Than a pearl or thorn.

It’s one of the places
Where the beloved is born.

Orr, whose own experience with heartbreak often shows up in his poetry, reminds us that loss can allow us to experience beauty — and give and receive love — more fully than we could before our hearts were broken open.

May it be so for all whose hearts are broken.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. His book On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old will be published in June.

Share Your Reflection


  • Gabby

    I am not sure that I believe that being heartbroken allows us to give and receive love more fully than before. I do believe in giving love abundantly despite the risk of heartbreak, not because heartbreak itself leaves a person better off but because love does.

    • Parker J. Palmer

      Thanks, Gabby. I really like your almost-always alternative slant on things—you make me think. I say a big “amen” to “I do believe in giving love abundantly despite the risk of heartbreak…” In my case, having my heart broken open—not apart—has helped me love more abundantly. I guess love and the broken-open heart go ’round in a circle for me. Thanks for helping me get clear about that circularity as I’ve experienced it. The broken-apart heart is something else altogether—a topic I explored briefly in the piece above, “An Invitation to Heartbreak and the Call of the Loon.” Thanks again.

      • Gabby

        Thank you, Parker, for understanding my participation in the spirit in which I mean it.
        I see the blog posts on the site – all, not just yours- as openings to thought and conversation to which every reader can give independent consideration.
        If we all doing that rather than responding to each post only with agreement, we can expand the perspectives to which we are all exposed and make the site an environment of thoughtful discourse.

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  • Kathy Bradshaw

    I just arrived at a place that is familiar yet new. My relationship of over 30 years has ended. My heart is broken open with sadness and grief. The last few years were the most difficult the separation. As the poem says….but then you wouldn’t understand poems or songs. you’d never know beauty comes from loss.

    And sitting here right now in pain I can truly understand the wisdom of this poem.

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