“Give your heart to everybody you meet. The rest is pretense.” – Ethan Hawke, Ash Wednesday
I received a message on Goodreads recently asking me about the above line, which I have listed on my profile there as one of my favorite quotes. I’ve loved the line ever since reading it, and have always tried to live by it to varying degrees. It’s both an inspiration to me and a challenge. For me, it evokes beauty–the beauty of a world in which people might connect with one another in healthy, generous, fulfilling ways, rather than remaining steadfastly and stubbornly apart.
So I was taken aback when the person who messaged me asked, “…how? Why? That is a terrifying quote.”
“Terrifying?” I thought to myself. “What? Are we even reading the same quote?”
It actually ended up being a fruitful exchange, and one that really got me thinking. Because, yes, when you take the world at face value it’s a terrifying place full of people who could potentially hurt you–both physically and emotionally. And so of course it makes sense to protect yourself. (And as a white cisgender male, of course, I have to acknowledge that my experience of the world is different from many other people’s, and that I likely don’t face as many potential dangers or threats as many others do.)
Still, though, I think the inherent danger of the world is what makes giving your heart to others such a beautiful and powerful act. Because there is risk involved–always. So it means something when you open yourself up, because you’re not just opening yourself to the good, you’re opening yourself to the bad as well.
I guess it really depends on how you define giving your heart. Clearly you shouldn’t constantly be placing yourself in physically or emotionally precarious situations (especially with strangers), and clearly you shouldn’t always be bending over backwards for other people at a detriment to your own well-being. But I think heart-giving is deeper than that. I think it’s more a frame of mind than a discernible action–an attitude toward the world and other people that informs the way you think of, speak with, and behave toward them. Which means that, sometimes, maybe the best way to give your heart to someone is to keep your distance. Maybe getting too close to a person will hurt both yourself and them in the long run, or maybe that desire for closeness is coming more from wanting to possess their heart rather than giving them your own. Regardless, I think the important thing is that you’re keeping your distance in those situations out of love–out of mindful, genuine heart-giving–and not out of knee-jerk insulation or fear.
But, of course, it’s never easy to know where to draw the line. It’s never easy to say in a given situation, “This is the best way for me to give my heart to this person.” It’s an ever uncertain line that we have to walk between living out the truth that we’re all connected, and putting up barriers pretending we’re separate. And we’re never going to walk it perfectly, which I guess is what makes it so scary, even for me.
Because don’t get me wrong–I’m definitely terrified of giving my heart to everyone I meet.
I’m just slightly more terrified of pretense.