A Matter of Heart
I was speaking to someone about the power of our feelings, of our emotions, on our physical body... and our conversation awakened a deep memory of something profound that I experienced many years ago.
Throughout my life I have had spiritual occurrences. I didn’t document them in writing...until recently, when they escalated in frequency. As far as this memory goes, however, it doesn’t matter how long ago it happened, I’ll never forget it.
The story starts when I was quite young and still had much to learn. It pertains to a boy, who was a year ahead of me, in my high school. I will call him Joe, not his real name. Joe was popular and charismatic. He was involved in both high school theater and football, but was forced to stop playing football after an episode with his heart on the football field. After going through a litany of tests, it was discovered that his heart was unusually small in size for his nearly adult, 6’2” frame.
We didn’t officially meet face to face until right before he graduated. There was an instant spark. At that time, I was already in a committed relationship with a wonderful young man from a rival school, whom I loved deeply and later would marry after graduating from high school myself. Joe and I did go out on one lovely date when I had briefly broken up with my boyfriend...for one day...and, Joe was right there ready to jump on the opportunity. It was a fun date. But because I still felt committed to my boyfriend, no lines were crossed, not even a kiss. I got back together with my boyfriend shortly after.
Joe pursued me for a long time before and then for a while after I was married. The emotions were complex, since, when I met him, I felt I already knew him. There was an instant warm familiarity, and attraction. I loved having deep conversations about life. Joe loved talking. I limited our contact to phone conversations only, and told myself this was fine because it was just a friendship, and it did stay a friendship. It never crossed any lines. But my husband didn’t like it, and looking back, I wouldn’t have either if the shoe had been on the other foot.
In getting to know Joe better, I came to find out that he had been adopted from Germany by American parents. His father had been in the armed forces in Germany. I also have German heritage. Joe was adopted at the age of 6 years. He was old enough to have detailed memories of his biological mother and still loved her very much. He spoke of her all the time; the pain and the love was apparent. He couldn’t reconcile how his biological mother, who seemed so loving, would one day, out of the blue, just give him away.
I want to make it clear that this is not like giving a child up for adoption at birth...or even later, but with preparation. Those adoption stories are usually beautiful, positive and life-affirming. It is extremely unusual for a mother, who had a close relationship with her 6-year old child, to decide to give him away, without warning him. One day, his things were just packed up. The poor boy went into shock.
Though he had been given away in what seemed like such a heartless way, when he spoke of his mother, it was never her fault. He still loved her, he felt that she had loved him, and yearned to be with her like crazy.
The parents who had raised him had been good to him. These wonderful people never made the biological mother out to having been a bad person. They explained that she was young and couldn’t care for him. His parents wanted him happy though, and his yearning for his biological mother wasn’t going away. They decided to help him search for her.
Around this time, I asked Joe if it was possible he was keeping himself from meeting someone he could have a future with, because of his feelings for me? He admitted he was hoping my marriage would fail, and it was indeed going through a rocky time largely due to my husband’s and my youth and immaturity when we married as teens, I know I would have handled things differently had I been wiser and more mature. I felt with Joe looking for his mother in Germany, this was his chance for a new beginning, and that I needed to break our ties so he’d have a chance at that future. I let him know that our friendship was coming to a close, so he could start on his wonderful new adventure.
When Joe found his mother, she was open to meeting him. He flew out and it was an emotional first meeting. She had hoped he would one day look for her. She disclosed to him that he was given away not because she couldn’t care for him but rather because she had gotten a new boyfriend, at that time, who didn’t want the burden of a child, and he told her to give her son away. She hadn’t really wanted to, but did what he asked.
Wow! As a mother that revelation was startling to me! I must assume she was in an abusive relationship. I mean who asks for something like that!? Her story explained the suddenness and incomprehensiveness of it all for little Joe. It was a sudden change, and he had not seen it coming.
He discovered that his biological mother was presently living with new man who was also abusive. When Joe got back to the U.S., he organized himself so he could move back to Germany, to be with his mother, and to be her hero. He gushed about how he looked like her, how well they got along instantly, and how a floodgate of childhood memories filled him. He would help her get away from this man...and fix her life.
In hindsight, I had a feeling of unease. He was talking so fast. Everything was moving fast. His re-connection with his mother was dramatic and sudden. He was noticeably upset about her abusive relationship and wanted to help her, but he said she needed to want it too, and therein maybe lay a problem. Also, within days his mother had introduced Joe to a woman Joe's age she knew. Joe called me to ask if he and I stood any kind of chance for ever getting together, since during this time I had just filed for a separation from my husband? My answer was still, “no...I want you to move on with your life.” It was the hardest thing to say so definitively, but I didn’t want to stand in the way of this possible relationship. I hung-up the phone and cried. This was the end of a friendship of a deeply bonded friendship.
He married the woman within weeks of knowing her. Everything seemed to be at a frenzied pace. I overrode my feelings of unease with feelings of hope for him. He was starting a new future with someone in Germany now, and his heart was where his mother was. He was home.
I felt his desire to stay in communication with me would hinder his building a new life, and I also needed to take distance for my own heart. I told him this needed to be the last time we talked. It was an emotional good-bye for both of us, and I will never forget the last words he said to me before we hung-up the phone.
It was only a couple months later, when I was in bed, fast asleep, that I was awakened to him standing in my room. I wasn’t afraid. I understood right then that Joe had died and I was seeing his soul. I got out of bed, moved towards him, then turned back for a moment, to see my physical body still in bed. I went over to him to embrace him, but he told me not to touch him, he had not gone through some sort of cleansing yet. We spoke without moving our lips. We traveled first to where he had lived, then to the neighborhood of my childhood. We had not known each other as little kids, but somehow now he was able to direct us there. It was there on the corner of Corrido Way, my old street that we said good-bye. I told him that “I could handle it” if, occasionally, we could meet like this. He told me this was the last time, because soon it was his birth day.
It ended there. I don’t recall how I got back to bed, but upon waking I immediately cried out loud, and I called my mother on the phone to tell her that Joe had died. She said, “What!? How do you know?” I shared about his visit, and she assured me I had just had a symbolic dream about the ending of our relationship. She said not to worry, he was fine, dreams are just symbolic. I called out, “NO MAMA! IT WASN’T A DREAM. IT WAS DIFFERENT!”, but hearing her words calmed me some, I wanted her explanation to be true. It was a few months later, when I found out from an old girlfriend I hadn’t spoken to in years, who still lived where Joe and I had gone to high school, that she had read his obituary in the paper. He had gone to Germany to be with his mother, and he had died of a heart attack—around the night he came through my room to say goodbye.
My friend made a snide remark that “he must have been doing drugs. No one dies of a heart attack at 31 unless they are doing drugs”. I said “NO! Joe never did drugs. He didn’t drink heavily or do drugs. He was careful because of his heart condition”. His mother, who had raised him, belonged to the Heart Association because of his heart condition. I then suddenly remembered Joe’s words when he told me about the episode some 12 years prior in high school. He said, “My doctor told me that the x-rays showed that my heart is the size of a child’s heart, but in an adult body”.
That’s when something came over me. I got off the phone. I could hardly breathe. I suddenly felt, in the deepest part of my soul...that when Joe's little 6-year old heart was broken, the day he was given away, the gripping pain in his heart stopped it's growth. That is the power of our brain and our heart. Now, as a young adult he found her...the mother he loved so much, and his 6-year-old-sized-heart was so overwhelmed by all of his emotions, he had a heart attack and died with her by his side. He is buried in the town he was born in, Frankfurt Germany.
I think of Joe and what happened to him as a child, it tears me to pieces. What gives me solace is the incredible calm, warmth, love and peace that Joe emanated when he came to say “good-bye", and when I said that it would be easier to take if occasionally we could meet like this, and he explained that he couldn't. He smiled and said, "soon is my birth day”.