I’ve been waiting for this image for a long time. Over the past year it has evolved in various forms until the idea of creating a story around heartstrings came up. The original of the idea came from hearing a story about a woman’s near-death experience recently, in which she described leaving her body but seeing literal strings connecting her heart to all the other hearts around her. That clicked for me as the perfect concept for this shot.
I’ve sat with all the images from this shoot for over a week now because so many of them turned out to be very powerful. So much so that I’m thinking I will break it out into its own smaller series – in color. I’ve certainly had a hard time choosing just one for this series, but this is the one that is speaking to me today.
The heart story. Connections, love, vulnerability, tension, fear, courage. The heart is a raw, wild place inside us that we only ever allow a very select few to see. Personally, I like it that way.
There has been, all my life, this constant tension between myself and the outside world. I have lost far too many people in my 32 years to be frivolous about who I attach it to. This isn’t something that has been caused by my fiance’s death, but likely by the death of my mother when I was very young and likely also to the dysfunctional nature of my childhood. I turned inward when she died, and spent much of my time within my own heart and mind. Safe from the pain of losing others. Over time, I became an expert at keeping connections at bay… but in the background, I always knew there was something about this that I didn’t like. It was all too easy to sever ties with most people because I never let them connect to me in the first place.
My fiancé’s love changed all that. He crept into the depths of my heart in ways that I had not allowed anyone else to. His essence wrapped itself around the deepest, darkest, most vulnerable parts of me. There was no fixing, just existing. Together. Wrapped around each other’s darkness. And around each other’s light. I let him all the way in. When he died, I could do nothing but bleed for a very long time. The brokenness made it impossible not to.
So it was his death which actually began to change something in me. In particular, the trauma and shock of how suddenly he died. It ripped my heart right out of my chest. What I didn’t know back then, is that although this meant my heart was now more vulnerable than ever, it also meant that it was more out in the open to receive love. That’s the thing of it – to receive love, to create connections, we must be willing to put our hearts out into the open and risk them being ripped apart.
It’s a terrifying thing. In the past few months, there have been some powerful shifts for me that have led to new challenges. There have been events and people who have come into my world which have pushed me to decide whether I will continue working to keep my heart our there in the world. Beginning to date again, and move into deeper friendships with men again, has been one of the biggest struggles of late. Particularly because it began to present itself so without warning and it has uprooted all sorts of things I had yet to begin to work through.
As I move forward, I’m learning a new balance with the outside world. I am not hiding my heart away like I used to. Finding less need for that now. I am not leaving it out in the open either though. I am holding it close to me, grasped firmly between strong hands – protected, but connected. Allowing others to grab hold of my heartstrings without letting them pull me out of balance. Choosing people who will not want to pull me out of balance. From here, I can loosen or tighten my grip as needed, in order to feel safe. And I can trust others respect that and do the same for themselves. The tension is no longer a negative. It is no longer out of balance on one side or the other, but instead like two equal forces, myself and the hearts of everyone else around me, creating power, energy and stability in the space between us.
“Still, Life” is a year-long self portrait series exploring the journey of grief. You can read more about the project in this post. To see the full image gallery visit 2014 PROJECT. Please share with anyone who you feel can relate to the imagery, my hope is that it gives many others a visual for something they are going through in their own lives.