Book Excerpt: The Perfect Heart


Excerpt begins on p.353.

My parents host a “Meet Joe” party. I scurry through the kitchen and overhear a good friend of mine who has Joe pinned in the corner say, “So, do you do your own laundry?” Joe laughs and answers yes. My friend nods her approval. Joe goes from conversation to conversation, meeting people, getting to know my friends and family. Dad examines the unorthodox label of a wine bottle and hesitates to pour a glass. Joe interrupts the conversation he is having just long enough to say to Dad, “That one is fine.” Dad nods at me and is impressed.

At the end of the evening, one friend leans in and says, “I’m glad Joe shows his affection for you. Jim was so affectionate with you, and I know how much you loved that.” When everyone has left, Joe goes downstairs to get ready for bed. My parents and I sit around the table.

[pullquote-left]Joe and I begin our perfectly imperfect life together.[/pullquote-left] “Joe sure is bright,” Dad says.

“And he’s witty, too. He’s savvier than Jim was, don’t you think?’ Glenda says.

“Yes,” I agree reluctantly. I’m happy that they like Joe and that they approve, but any comparison to Jim triggers my guilt. In my heart I pledged to love Jim forever, not just until death do us part, and now I am going to marry someone else.

Finding_Jim349aWithin four months, Joe quits his job in San Diego and moves to Whistler. Within one year, we exchange vows at a quiet ceremony in our Whistler home in front of our families. We host a larger reception at a local restaurant with 50 friends and family members. Jim’s parents, brothers and best friends are there. There are speeches and crying. One of Jim’s brothers says he was skeptical when Joe first arrived on the scene, but having spent time with him, knows he is a good guy. Jim’s best friend says Jim would be happy seeing me with Joe. Jim’s name comes up several times. I wonder if it bothers Joe, but he keeps a poker face. After all, they are honouring Joe, too.

People hug me with such unbridled happiness that I realize my wedding to Joe allows them to say one last goodbye to Jim. Jim and Sue are no longer. It is now Joe and Sue. And I sense relief in their tears. They have watched over me for almost six years, on Jim’s behalf, and now they can pass the torch. I’m okay now.

I feel strong when I go to the front of the room to address my friends and family. But I begin to cry as soon as I open my mouth:

People are defined not so much by the job they do but by how they dust themselves off and pick themselves up after a big fall. I feel I took a big fall. And as I’ve been picking myself up, loving hands, and one big paw, have reached out to me all along the way. I am defined by how my heart connects to all of you, my loved ones. Thank you. And now I have Joe. I would like to read a fable I’ve read to my students called “The Perfect Heart.” The author is unknown:

In a faraway land, there lived a people who carried their hearts in their hands. One young man began to achieve some fame. “I have the most perfect heart,” he proclaimed. Truly it was a sight to see – magnificently shaped, hard, smooth and flawless. His heart became the standard of perfection and people travelled from far away to view this wonder. And they would steal a glance at their own hearts, each now clearly aware of its flaws, embarrassed to let anyone else see them.

One day, an old man stepped up to the young man and said in a voice for everyone to hear, “I have a more perfect heart than yours.”

A murmur ran through the throng, then a hushed silence. Every head craned forward. Every eye watched intently as the old man brought forth his heart. The young man looked at the old man, bent and wrinkled with the passage of many years. Then he looked at the heart tenderly cradled in gnarled fingers and burst out with laughter. “Senile old fool. This is your perfect heart?” he sneered. For sitting on the palm of the old man’s hands was a heart as bruised, tattered, misshapen, scarred and ugly as anyone could ever recall.

“My heart is more perfect than yours,” the old man repeated, looking the young man square in the eyes. The laughter in the crowd died out as they pressed close to listen. Something in the serene way the old man spoke must have caught the young man’s attention for his expression changed. Puzzlement replaced the sneer.

“My heart is more perfect than yours,” the old man said once again, “because it is alive, and life is not pretty. It has been used as hearts are meant to be. This scar was left by a parent’s anger. This bruise by the death of my wife. These scars by the pain of some dear friends. These pieces that do not quite fit were given to me by people I have met along the way, and they carry a piece of my heart with them. These tatters are from doing what my heart said was right and rubbing against a world that said it was foolish. These holes are from people I loved who did not love in return. But I still gave them a piece of my heart. This heart is like this because I have taken the risk to care. That is why my heart is more perfect than yours.”

The young man looked sadly at his own heart. He began to walk away, head bent toward the ground.

“Wait! I am not finished,” said the old man. The young man stopped and turned back. The old man stepped toward him. “Do not go without this,” he said and pressed a piece of his heart into the young man’s palm. The young man looked into the old man’s eyes. As all the people watched, the young man tore a piece from his own heart and handed it to the old man. He smiled, and without another word, turned and went.

After reading the fable, I pause and look at Joe. “Thank you, Joe, for taking a chance on my heart.”

Joe and I begin our perfectly imperfect life together.