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Rich: Feeling a heartache is better than nothing

POSTED: April 19, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Once when I was young and love had broken my heart for the first time, I thought I would never recover from the agony resulting when the bliss had been sucker punched and sent packing.

I cried. Mournfully. I moped. I quit eating. I stopped sleeping. I looked like Rocky Balboa looked before the fight in his last movie.

The old woman had no sympathy for me as I plopped down in the chair beside her and sulkily rocked back and forth.

"Lawdy child, what I'd give to feel this old worn out heart hurtin' like that again." She shook her head and turned her faded eyes toward the sinking sun. When you're 18, adults can say some pretty dumb things but, at that point, I thought I had never heard anything dumber.

Incredulously, my mouth dropped. "What? Are you serious?"

With age-spotted hands, she smoothed the top of her gray hair and tucked a loose strand back into the tight bun from which it has escaped. A tiny dot of snuff was crusted at the corner of her mouth. She nodded. "Only a mighty love brangs a mighty hurt tailin' along behind it."

As with most of the dumb things that fell from the tongues of adults in my arrogant teenage years, those words morphed into syllables of brilliant wisdom.

One thing that love and the loss of love has taught me is that the deeper you love, the deeper you hurt when it ends. While the misery can be almost unbearable, at least you're feeling.

Some folks, though, get so beat up in life that somewhere along the way, they just become numb. They feel neither the love nor the pain when love departs.

Worse than gut-wrenching pain is to feel nothing.

As the years peeled away and life revealed more of its tender core, I came to know that the old woman was right. Love - the kind that pounds your heart into your rib cage with its excited beating - was often shadowed by the kind of hurt that will pound your heart into the bowels of your being.

Sometimes the pain was delivered by unexpected death, and twice it came from death that had boldly announced its impending arrival.

Sometimes love just walked away from me, and a few times I ran away from it.

Each time, as I anguished in the smothering ashes of the sweet memories burned away, I asked myself if the good times had been good enough to outweigh the agony.

"Was that worth this?" was always the prevailing question. And, usually, I had to admit that it was. Though there were a couple of times ...

I once watched a woman stand over the newly dug grave of her husband and shed not a tear. He was a carouser who had left her in heart many years before he left her in body. Somewhere along the way, she just stopped feeling. It was a sad sight to behold.

Recently, I asked a friend how he and his wife were enjoying their new puppy. He grinned. "We're too attached. I don't know that that's good." He shrugged, remembering perhaps the recent grief when their other dog had died.

I know that pain too well. When Highway, the dachshund who preceded Dixie Dew, died suddenly, it was untold misery. Finally, after three weeks, they had to send for the preacher.

"She's not doing well," those who loved me said.

I nodded, agreeing to his words. "Great love is always shadowed by great pain. You can't have one without the other." I paused, casting my eyes downward for a moment of thought. Then I smiled. "But in the end, it usually evens out and is worth it all."

Somewhere an 18-year-old is thinking that's the dumbest thing she's ever heard.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter.



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