petrified pieces of my heart | Memories

by Elouise

Petrified wood bits unpolished

“Petrified pieces of my heart.” Thank you, Mahmoud Darwish, for words that still move me to tears and help me better understand your exile and the importance of keeping lost memories alive.

In the opening pages of his Journal of an Ordinary Grief, Mahmoud Darwish writes these haunting words:

~What are you doing, father?

~I’m searching for my heart, which fell away that night.

~Do you think you’ll find it here?

~Where else am I going to find it? I bend to the ground and pick it up piece by piece just as the women of the fellahin pick up olives in October, one olive at a time.

~But you’re picking up pebbles!

~Doing that is a good exercise for memory and perception. Who knows? Maybe these pebbles are petrified pieces of my heart. And even if they’re not, I would still have gotten used to the effort of searching on my own for something that made me feel lost when it was lost. The mere act of searching is proof that I refuse to get lost in my loss. The other side of this effort is the proof that I am in fact lost as long as I have not found what I have lost.

Mahmoud Darwish, Journal of an Ordinary Grief, pp 3-4. Translated from Arabic, with a foreword by Ibrahim Muhawi. Archipelago Books, English translation published in 2010; first published in Beirut in 1973.

“Maybe these pebbles are petrified pieces of my heart.” That’s why I go back. To find and to love the petrified pieces. Wherever they are and however tiny the fragments, each is beautiful and life-giving.

My father collected petrified wood. Each piece was a small witness, part of a life long since passed. Forgotten, left lying there as though dead. Lying in wait. A treasure to discover, pick up, cherish, hold close. What does it represent? What does it tell me about the past and the present?

My childhood and youth are littered with petrified pieces of my heart. So is my marriage. Bits and pieces that got lost along the way. Waiting to be found, and dare I say resurrected?

From one point of view, losing things like this just happens. Yet they didn’t have to happen. And there’s the rub. The beginning of questions that begin with “Why?” and too often end with “Why me?” or “Why Us?”

The questions don’t have satisfying answers. Not for the heart. They do, however, invite me into the life of each petrified piece. Its history. How (if not why) it came to be buried in this graveyard. Who left it here, and when? What can be read, decoded, discerned from studying its body, its markings, colors, layers and scars? What life-healing secrets does it hold?

Sometimes I wake up wandering in a memory, picking it up and turning it over. Getting its feel, its sound, its texture. Listening for a message it may want to show or tell me.

Each petrified piece of my heart is precious. As the pile grows, so do I. Each bit makes me more human by connecting me with myself, my past and present, my communities, and this world God loves so much. I refuse to “get lost in my loss.” Which would be living death.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 April 2015
Image of petrified bits of wood from