Heart pain, iv. or The Hardest Part

This post has been lingering in the draft box for a very long time while I wrote the others leading up to it. I took it out, looked at it, and put it back almost every day. Then the other three were done, and I still just looked at it, changed things, put it back. A dozen times.

I knew from the start that the whole “Heart Pain” series would be a brave but futile attempt to condense an experience that can’t really be condensed. Even though the stories are incomplete, I got through the first few — mostly in the middle of the night– because I knew how to tell them, how to convey some fraction of the impact. I lost my courage on the fourth. You can’t type tears, you can’t type love, and you sure can’t type heart pain.

But I don’t want to put it back again.

first part here
second part here
third part here

I swept my belongings off the shelf, tugged bangles onto my wrists, and zipped shut the cherry-red suitcase. Shouldered my backpack and dragged it all down a flight of stairs. Added it to the pile — checked luggage to one side, carry-ons to the other — and entered our meeting room to see all the children gathered, most looking ill or openly sobbing. They looked how I felt.

Such was the scene as we prepared to leave Semmandakuppam early on the eighteenth of January.

A few days earlier, I had left the kids for a little while to briefly reflect and sort out some thoughts. I hadn’t been alone for very long before I missed the rest of India again.

A nauseating thought dawned. You can barely leave them for half an hour. What are you going to do when …? 

I climbed the stairs to the roof and looked in all directions. The coconut trees and sugarcane crops were more beautiful than the architectural feats I once dreamed of traveling the world to find. The mountains sloped and faded into haze. The brilliant sunlight, so different from the kind we know in the west, overwhelmed brand new eyes.

This was not on the map. I was not supposed to look out on a remote Tamil village and see home. This was supposed to be a change of scenery, nothing drastic. It was not supposed to change my vision or trajectory. My heart was not supposed to be invaded, emptied out, divided, and made whole.

Suppositions are fragile things.

I began to understand what was behind Peter’s desperate “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If You wish, I will put up three shelters.” 

If You wish … But He did not wish. Not yet.

Everything in me shuddered, and I clung to the hope that His love is strong.

And then, the luggage was being piled into the bus and we had to say goodbye to all those children. Goodbyes are among my numerous weaknesses and I had little to say, only children to embrace. Tears did not fall even as I said goodbye to Pavi who stood stoic, hands behind his back.

I looked over and saw a familiar pair of purple polka-dotted pants. Nithya had wandered in while I was with the others. She gave me her crinkly-nosed smile, but with questioning eyes. I picked her up, hugged her tightly, and lost whatever fragment of bravery remained.

Moments later, everything was packed and the students clustered to the side for our departure. Pavi didn’t even move to brush away the tears as we said our final farewell.

We boarded and I looked back at dozens of faces etched with expressions ranging from smiling nostalgia to the throes of grief. Fortitude did not avail itself; a plurality of tears did.

There are no words for what that moment felt like, except that it surpassed, but was not unlike, everything I ever learned the hard way about reckless love.

A boy in an orange shirt and gray beanie, a boy particularly small in stature but particularly tall in courage, looked at me and put his hand over his chest as if to hold back whatever welled inside.

He does know something about heart pain.

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8 thoughts on “Heart pain, iv. or The Hardest Part

  1. Noelle, it sounds as if this trip touched your heart in ways you never dreamed it would. I know my mother has often told me, “Sarah, we often start to serve others with intention of blessing them, but somewhere along the way God does something. He turns the smiles on others’ faces into a bigger blessing for us than we ever gave them.”

  2. I don’t have words for you: yours are beautiful, as always, & so poignant. My heart meets yours here; I have never been to India, but I know the pain of leaving a place and a people you’ve come to love like it was your own. I am always thankful for the way He breaks hearts – He breaks them on others’ behalves and never our own.

  3. Noelle,

    I’d like to say I have words to offer; whispers from one heart to another. But I have none right now. Only a glance in your eyes, and a gentle hug–from one sister heart to another seeking to follow a God that is incomprehensible, almighty, and that we desperately adore. Rejoicing within as He guided you to India…rejoicing now as He will continue to guide your heart.

    He holds them in His arms; He is holding you.
    Press on, dear heart….

    ~Melanie

  4. It’s incredible… what our God can work in only a weekful or so of days…

    I have no words I can share… I have no experiences I can use to relate to this… My well of understanding has run starkly dry.

    I’m afraid this is all I have:
    1) Still praying for you
    2) Two quotes, which I’m sure you’ve seen before:

    “Every goodbye makes the next hello sweeter.”

    “For those who are in Christ, goodbye always and only means, ‘See you later.'”

  5. Thanks for sharing that lovely-sweet pic.. You certainly have a versatile collection of emotional pics which makes your posts visually more alive with your touching words..! Keep blogging..!
    -Sanju-

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