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To Break Our Hearts Open

By Amanda Poppei

“Go ahead, push your luck/Find out how much love the world can hold.”
—Dar Williams, "After All"

I wonder what exactly we’re doing, we human beings, when we invite non-human animals into our homes.

When our last cat died, my spouse and I thought that maybe it was time for a break from cats. Why add to our already hectic lives, already full with the care of two small humans and the maintenance of two adults? Why deal with the hassle of having to put away dinner leftovers right away, lest they be eaten by a roaming pet? Perhaps our lives were better without extra fur.

Our daughters disagreed. They felt, in fact, that a cat was integral to our family’s continued happiness—more specifically, littermates that would curl up together and lick each other’s ears. Our daughters would feed them! They would take care of the litter box! We need never do anything again, if only we would get some kittens for our family to love.

We now have two kittens. They’re ridiculous: they attack my toes and jump on the table and I can already tell that they’re going to scratch the furniture.

It's basically a disaster. I love them so much. Love is like that, you know? It's like kittens: somewhat destructive; definitely annoying; and completely irresistible.

I mean all the kinds of love: family love and friend love and world love. I mean all the ways we’re asked to break our hearts open, to let the world claw its way into our orderly ideas of how Things Are Supposed To Go. Love makes us clean up litter boxes even when we swore we were done with that forever. Love is so often a surprise, upending our expectations, and it’s almost never convenient.

What, exactly, are we doing when we invite love into our lives? Surely we know that it's much tidier without it, when things stay at a distance. And yet: I’m sucked in every time, seduced by the possibility of an expanded heart. I hope that never changes. I hope every tiny, fuzzy, combative, ridiculous kitten asks me to open my heart just a tiny bit more. I know myself well enough: I'll say yes.

Spirit of life and love, help us say yes to love. Open our hearts: a crack, a little more, a chasm pulled apart so that love may seep in. Let the love run right across our orderly expectations. And when we think our hearts are full enough... open them a bit more. May it be so, and amen.

About the Author

Amanda Poppei

Rev. Amanda Poppei is a Unitarian Universalist minister serving as clergy at the Washington Ethical Society, a humanist congregation with roots in the Ethical Culture movement (which is also affiliated with the UUA). She lives in Maryland with her husband, Peter, and their two children....


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