When was the last time you dropped an apple in a grocery store?
What did you do next? Did you leave it on the floor, put it back in the bin for some unsuspecting shopper, or did you put it in your bag and take it home?
When it happens, we feel badly that we lost our grip… But we’re not sure we want to claim that apple as ours.
Heartbreak is like a dropped apple.
For some of us, a trip to life’s produce department usually goes smoothly, and we manage not to drop the apples. But sometimes life seems to knock that apple right out of our hands, and we find ourselves watching it roll across the floor despite our best, most desperate lunge to grab it. We get jolted to attention. We have to decide what to do next, and what we decide makes a difference.
We have so many methods at our fingertips for accepting and working through the difficult moments – years – of our lives. We may turn to others for help. Therapists, doctors, coaches, family and friends –we’re fortunate when we receive help from others. The powerful tools of journaling, artistic expression and venting allow us to accept our feelings of pain and process them, often privately, before they ferment in our hearts. With any of these methods, timing is instrumental.
I’ve found the best response recently: take that apple home and make sure to eat it before the bruise settles and sinks.
It’s not just because it’s the “right thing to do”. It works best. What we really wish is for the pain to end, for the bruise of heartbreak never to appear. This approach embraces the reality of the dropped apple and deals with it in the way that most reduces the effect of the impact.
So many things happen in our lives that make dropping an apple seem like a weak analogy to heartbreak. Learning your child has special needs… a divorce… a death… the realization that our friends may not always be there when we need them. These bruised moments come for the best of us. Sometimes we need to accept anguish and feeling lost. Sometimes we need to own that dropped apple and take it home. The apple analogy helps distract us from self-pity and shows us what we need to do.
When you scoop up that apple, go home and make yourself a pity pie. Eat it so quickly that it’s gone before you’ve even had a chance to feel deeply sorry for yourself. Notice the taste. Receive the comfort food of acknowledging that you feel pain. Allow the pain to pass through you freely. Release it the way you release the pie when you place it in the oven. You can think, “That’s my aching heart in there. I acknowledge it, I’ve transformed it, and when it’s done, I’m going to enjoy what I’ve made with it.”
This way, we step outside of our pain and turn it into something that feels less sharp, less personal, less threatening. And we can share the transformation with others without making them swallow the bruised parts. We’ve made it beneficial, before it spoiled.
I remember the first time I decided to allow my son see me crying. I had spent the previous nine years making what I felt were appropriate efforts, as a single mother, to keep the apples in the basket and off the floor. I was beginning to realize that my apple-catching skills deceptively gave the impression that I had my juggling act down pat.
But I had been “dropping apples” all week, and that night I felt like a whole bushel did a Newton right onto my unsuspecting head. It even happened in a public place. I really needed to let it all out, and I knew inexplicably, instinctively, that I really needed to let my son see it. I hoped that would allow us both to believe – and learn – that things get better. Then we could get on with our lives and I could accept my own imperfection.
I also realized that I had a certain responsibility to show my son a range of genuine and spontaneous emotions, no matter how embarrassing it might prove for me. His autism diagnosis implies that he might not understand the nuances of human emotions. I believed that I needed to give him a full-out view of what happens when a person feels overwhelmed.
So I cried. He saw. He asked. I explained. I encouraged. The taxi arrived, we made it home, and we shared a precious example of how things can turn out okay even when you do not feel okay.
How ironic to think happily that my autistic son knows when I’m upset. How wonderful to understand that I don’t have to hide my bad days from him anymore. Now, if he sees that I’m sad or distressed, he knows that if he just reaches out and pats me on the shoulder, it makes a huge difference. He feels empowered to help me. And he knows that his mom loves him even when she’s crying and he doesn’t understand why.
The dropped apple reminds me of the preciousness of every moment with my son. It reminds me of my opportunity to teach him hope, patience, and acceptance, even in the face of difficulty. And the surprise comes from figuring out – almost accidentally – that the best way to teach him happiness is to allow him to see sadness. When we face and walk through our crises, we come to understand that taking home the dropped apple is not the end of the world, or even a thing to avoid.