Open heart surgery

I made videos for my Unravellers today, and when i briefly mentioned my nephew I could feel myself getting emotional; at the moment I just have to look at a photograph of him and my eyes mist over. Talking to my sister the other day she confirmed that ever since my bereavement I’ve seemed able to cry more easily than I ever did before. And she’s right. I don’t remember being particularly UNemotional before he died, but the more i consider this the more I can see the truth of how I am now – grief took off my skin, and what has grown back seems more permeable and tender. I’ll admit to pushing a lot down too – the uncomfortable stuff, like the secret yearning to be held in the middle of the night, or feeling wistful when yet another friend gets engaged. These feelings get pushed down because it’s so much easier that way; to be living constantly on the edge of our emotions is exhausting. Truly feeling our emotions heals them, absolutely, but it also requires much sitting-on-the-sofa-with-chocolate, and I seem to have less time to do that these days. And then Noah enters the room, two months ago today. I saw his little face come out, and the slippery smallness of his body carried up and over into my sister’s arms. And I didn’t know it at the time, but my heart opened right then in preparation for what was to come; if I’d listened closely I would have heard the rip as the bandages came off. And now I watch an old episode of House and I’m in floods of tears at the end; my empathy levels are suddenly off the charts.

In last Thursday’s post Grete asked me a question in the comments: ‘When did you feel spiritually, mentally and emotionally mature enough to teach? This is a personal question, as I’m about to do just that… The best advice I’ve come across so far is Neale Donald Walsch saying – A spiritual leader does not say “Follow me”. A spiritual leader says, “I’ll go first”. ‘

I wanted to answer this here as my immediate thought was: I don’t think i will ever feel spiritually, mentally or emotionally mature enough to teach. All i can do is share what has worked for me. What I’ve seen. What I’ve felt. I’ve discovered I’m good at bringing people together – making tribes – so i’ll keep doing that and just share what i know.

I’m not a teacher, I’m a reporter. I report back to the troops. I’m a compulsive bean-spiller, too. But for some reason the word teach scares the crap out of me.

I was hit with the Fear Stick today, the bone-chilling panic that I am not qualified to write the book I’ve been asked to write. A wise and helpful book. I can’t do that, it feels too big and responsible. So i’ve scooped up all my expectations and locked them in a drawer; instead I’m going to just share what I know. It’s all I’ve got, really. I will tell you my story in words and pictures and if some of it shines a ray of light so you can see your way better then that will be enough for me. I’m not an expert in anything other than how i glued myself back together after a grenade went off in my life.

And how much I love my nephew.

48 responses
  1. skeetergal

    Oh gosh I get this so so much and the way you write is just so fiercely beautiful Susannah!!

  2. Marianne

    Yes, you are a reporter. You tell the truth about what what you’ve known and learned and you tell that truth with beauty and grace. Your book will be wise & honest & beautiful because you are.

  3. Kerri

    This is terrific Susannah! My favourite piece of your writing so far. Just keep showing us what you got and ‘going first’ and we’ll keep loving you :)

  4. amanda

    Your writing, love.
    It always gets me.

  5. Catalina

    you will write a wonderful book for sure.

    if you speak with your heart it will we wise :)

    and your nephew’s love will accompany you


  6. sas

    the best teachers in my life have been those who shared the wonder and the ‘how about that-ness’ of learning. they didn’t have the answers necessarily, they just knew what doors to push open.

    you are going to rock this book’s tits off. for realz.

    love xxxx

  7. jane

    Oh Susannah your words and your journey are not just a ray of light but today it feels like a friggin floodlight… hoping you have time to be on the couch with chocolate today and that you treasure yourself tenderly… you are enough, you are enough, you are more than you will ever need… need

  8. Bildwerferin

    “I’m not a teacher, I’m a reporter. I report back to the troops.”

    Wow Susannah, that really opened a door for me. Thank you. As a trained journalist I felt really uncomfortable with the notion of teaching, all the while knowing it’s something I felt called to do. Reporting leaves that much more space for the “troops” to take or leave what I’m offering. Maybe the attributes we connect with the concept of a “teacher” (like having it all together, always knowing what is right etc) are just way too big for what it actually is.

  9. Nina

    I know some people who make a big effort to be wise teachers, and it’s not convincing. Then I know a few people who are just quietly doing their thing, trying to open themselves up more and more and give their best, but never saying “Look at me, I’ve got the answer”. And you know who’s got the most of value to share with others. So I think you’ve hit upon a winning strategy for your book! All the best with the work and I look forward to the results.

  10. Nina

    p.s. The crying… I’ve been ill with chronic fatigue syndrome/ME for some years now, and I guess that’s a kind of loss, of the life I’d imagined having. I’ve had a lot of time to examine myself and live right in the middle of my feelings. I can cry at pretty much anything these days! But it’s sometimes with joy too, or love. Feeling everything so keenly is hard, you’re right, and we certainly can’t do it all the time – but don’t you cherish it too?

  11. Lindsey

    Though I have not shared your particular loss, the notion of being porous and permeable is very familiar to me and resonates deeply. Also the exhaustion of constantly feeling our emotions. I loved your class when I took it in January and am thrilled that you are writing a book – THRILLED. I know the Fear Stick too but you must trust that there are zillions of adoring readers out here!

  12. Tammy

    that is the most beautiful and honest thing I’ve ever read
    and that is what helps those you bring together
    even in the midst of pain and fear and even joy, you continue to grow
    that is what you have taught me :)
    much love to you!! (as I wipe my tears)

  13. Karen Beth

    I was drawn to this post’s title in my reader today. You see… I actually had open-heart surgery one year ago today. :)

  14. Roxanne

    Grief smashes us wide open, doesn’t it?

  15. melissa Piccola

    I now understand why I feel such a connection to you. The grief that we’ve both had to deal with…of course it took me 20 years to open up my heart…

  16. kathryn

    i love how you put it:I’m not an expert in anything other than how i glued myself back together after a grenade went off in my life. I so relate to that! I’ve become so much more emotional too. Thanks!

  17. charlane

    oh honey bunny, i believe that everyone is a teacher – that we all have life lessons that we share with each other every day. so yes….you have some of the biggest and hardest lessons wrapped up inside you, yearning, aching, pleading to be out there. and i want the blessing of hearing them.


  18. susannah

    oh my goodness, that is huge!! i’m not sure if congratulations or happy anniversary are the right things to say :) but yay you! x

  19. susannah

    yes, absolutely – life is richer for it xo

  20. susannah

    we will have lots to talk about in september, hon xo

  21. Heather

    I love your writing, you have a true gift.. You come from a really authentic place, and that is what the world needs, more souls wiling to open up and be themselves , it gives the rest of us courage to do the same in our ways, and then in turn the people we inspire , knowingly or not, will go on to do the same.. Just bring yourself as you are and that my dear will always be enough..

  22. amanda

    *tear* amazing post susannah. keep it up, you inspire and offer courage with your honesty.

  23. mindy

    oh gosh now you have me getting all weepy…

    i for one am very excited to read what you know. i mean that’s why i check in here every day. to see what you know and what you are sharing with us. i crave it. i need to see what you are doing.

    i can’t wait to see your book, to hold it and read it and keep it with me.

    all any of us can do is share what we know. all with the hopes that it will help someone somewhere.

    i mean look at what your little nephew is accomplishing. and he can’t even talk yet ;)

  24. karen d

    your words rock my healing heart, though our circumstances are different I am in a very similiar raw place, I can’t even sing my favorite songs without crying lately.. almost too raw, but I know the other side of this is going to be wonderous.

  25. Fidelma

    What a moving post. It took falling in love to open my heart and now I too cry at anything. While it can be embarassing at times it’s probably much healthier than the walls I had up before.
    I love your writing and really can’t wait to see more in your book. Report away – we all want to read it!

  26. Amelia

    Hi Susannah,

    I popped over and then reading this I too felt a tear or two creeping up. The funny thing is I don’t like crying I don’t know if it’s the tough me trying to protect myself or what. There have been many, many things that have felt grenade-like in my life and just recently I procrastinated on putting up a post about what’s really been going on for me recently (was scared about being judged!) and when I read the comments I just cried – it just came flooding out!

    Thanks for sharing here like this too.

    I like what you say about ‘teaching’ – and what a great quote. Have read all the books ;)

    I wanted to run the experimental art e-course because I know how much art has been a life-saver for me throughout the grenades and I too want to share what worked for me.

    Being who you are gives permission to others and that’s great Susannah – thank you.


  27. Sally Veach

    Your post reminds me of some advice I had to give to myself in my own artistic journey. When feeling like I might not be good enough, and why in the world am I pretending to be worthy of making art, I remembered the oft phrase put on Early American women’s tombstones: “She Hath Done What She Could”. This phrase is so significant that it is inscribed on many. I have a post about it with pictures of all the tombstones on my blog–way back in the archives. We all have to do only what we can, and what we can is good enough–and a lot!

  28. furiousball

    you can write this book beautiful woman and that nephew you love so much, he’s little but absolutely strong enough to help you do it

  29. doorways traveler

    i respond to one thing and one thing alone in a teacher, in friendship, in humanity: transparency. show me your truth and i will find beauty and connection there. you’ve got this, honey, to the moon and back.

    i love you.

  30. Grete

    Susannah –

    A deep-felt thank you for this answer.

    I have been in two minds about teaching for some time now, as I’m also quite good at hitting myself with that glittering, festive looking Fear Stick. The notion of “Hey! You! Listen to what I have to teach you!” just doesn’t do anything for me other than sending me off to Freak-Out Land where my blood alternately boils and sinks below freezing. The idea of “I’m not a teacher, I’m a reporter” on the other hand, made me want to find some rooftop to reach up and kiss the sun.

    So now there’s four sentences in my “Teach Yourself to Teach” Manual:

    – Don’t ever use the word TEACH.
    – You are not a teacher, you are a reporter.
    – A spiritual leader does not say “Follow me”. A spiritual leader says, “I’ll go first” (Neale Donald Walsch)

    And the fourth – (which I wrote about today at ) is based on Sojourner Truth’s “Children, I have come here like the rest of you, to hear what I have to say.”
    – You are your own best student. Listen to what you have to say.

    Had I not deleted the word TEACH from my vocabulary, I would certainly have said – thanks, Susannah, you have taught me something of PROFOUND value today. Instead I’ll just say – Thank You – I’m listening to what you have to say.


  31. stephanie caldwell

    my oh my. this is one of those posts that just leaves me speechless. right what i needed when i didn’t even know i needed it.
    i always find that love, passionate love, rips open our hearts or ‘rips off our skin’ leaving us a shell of our former selves.
    I seem to look at becoming a mother for me as being a piece of fruit and having every layer torn away till i was just a seed from the middle and then planting myself to grow something new and even more plentiful than the piece of fruit i began as.
    Anyway you&grete really got me with the “A spiritual leader does not say Follow me. A spiritual leader says, I’ll go first.” Thank you.

  32. Fiona

    Just logging on here so a little behind the times, but yay a book! A piece of you I can hold in my hands is defenitely worth waiting for. This post proves it.

  33. susannah

    i can already tell that your troops will be blessed by your reports, hon! xo

  34. emma

    I get it.
    The grenade, the tears, the glue, the love.
    I get it.
    Just keep writing.

  35. kat

    Having both grieved and welcomed new life I can imagine some of what you are feeling.

    I think Oliver Jeffers’ The Heart and the Bottle may just speak to you right now.

  36. Susan

    Your words hit home today. For the last year I have been trying to find the right words to describe what has happened in my life. Your reference to a grenade going off in your life describes it beautifully. I shall borrow that if you don’t mind. For me the grenade keeps sputtering and causing emotional chaos, I long for peace. I look forward to your book and hope to be quick enough to be able to take your unraveling class one of these days, I suspect it would do me a world of good… Thank you.

  37. LaVonne Ellis

    Susannah & Nina, this is exactly what I needed to hear today. I’ve been feeling really depressed because I can’t fake being an expert. Not saying anyone else is faking it, but I wouldn’t be me if I tried to be someone else. I know that sounds basic, but I was really starting to think I couldn’t do this because all I have to offer is me.

    “Then I know a few people who are just quietly doing their thing, trying to open themselves up more and more and give their best…”

    Now, this I can do. :)

  38. mj

    “I’m going to just share what I know. It’s all I’ve got, really.”

    It’s all anyone’s got. You just happen to have in spades. And we all want it. :)


  39. Christine

    so brilliantly said and that is all you need to say in your book. no worries about being scared because the hardest part is behind you, now you can have fun.

  40. margie

    i so often slip back on the grief i have worn for so long. i allow myself to wear it now and then because it is such an integral part of who i am. how do i remember if i don’t touch it?

  41. Bel Youll

    You just being ‘you’ will ensure that whatever you do in life will be amazing : )

    And on that note, I have tagged you to pass on a meme titled “9 Things I’ve Learnt The Hard Way”. I couldn’t think of a better person to share their thoughts and learnings on this subject. x bel

  42. cindy

    you can do it – take one step at a time and before you know it you are running with all the special people near and far with you.

  43. susannah

    thank you, sweets, i will check it out! xo

  44. susannah eloyse prinz

    “grief took off my skin, and what has grown back seems more permeable and tender”

    the losses i have endured have looked different, but the last 2 years have been so so difficult, and yet, in those losses i have found myself more gracious, more tender, more kind. the edges have been worn off. it isnt how i would have hoped it to happen, but i am grateful nonetheless.

    beautiful brave post

  45. Colette

    I feel close today because you shared your pain.

    Your words are lovely and bring me strength today.

  46. Small Sweet Steps

    Healing love to you.

  47. partivnarayan

    It’s Great, Susannah! I cannot wait to watch the video. By the way, I love my little nephew too. She is so lovely. Thank you for sharing this, anyway.

  48. Charlotte

    you are honestly one of the bravest people i have ever heard of. sure running into a buirning building or taking a bullet for someone else is brave, but if you have lost someone and then picked yourself right up off the floor and carried on then you have the right to call yourself a hero.
    i lost both of my beautiful nans in the same year-both to life taking illnesses. the first was my soulmate, sister, mother and best freind all wrapped up in one loving, caring and strong body. she lost her life to dementia, meaning that she forgot me and everyone around her. that was proberly the most painfull part of her death for me and second to that was that i was not allowed to say goodbye to her at all.
    the second was killed by the mass murderer- cancer- and not just any cancer, it was breast cancer and she had fought it off again and again, but in the end her body failed her. both of them died whilst sleeping- the most peaceful and painless way to go i believe.
    the worst thing other than losing them was the fact i lost both of them when i was taking my exams, yet the best thing other than them no longer being in pain was that they helped me spiritually achieve my two best grades in the exams- i swear they stood over me and guided my hand to answer those questions in the best possible way.
    it did take me a while to stand up though. my heart, mind and soul where shattered and there is still a massive hole inside me that can never be filled, even after three years.
    thank you for helping cover those wounds with your beautiful photos and words of wisdom.
    love you lots

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