Room for More (chapter 4)

by Lesta Bertoia

I am inside my heart. The softly glowing, warm red walls of a curving corridor are pulsing gently on either side of me. I am standing barefooted on a resilient floor, beside a feature in the inner wall, a slit through which shines a hint of light. My hand, raised to feel it, slips through, so I ease myself into what appears to be a chamber. In a dreamy space that seems much bigger than my heart, I see my children, my siblings, my parents, my mates, my friends, all the people I have ever taken into my heart. They are all still here. There are more of them than I remembered.

Over there is a little boy of about three I met only once. He and I played bang-you’re-dead-oh-you-got-me in a boutique in Santa Barbara, while his nanny, who called his name occasionally to make sure he was behaving, did her shopping. I was just browsing, waiting for my friend Fran to choose something for herself.

“I don’t think you want to buy these shoes.” Jonathan had crept out from under a rack of clothes and picked up a pair of pink plastic sandals.

“Oh? Why not?”

“Because they’re green.” He wrinkled his nose.

“You’re right.” I wrinkled my nose, too. “I don’t want to buy them.”

Alternating with having to present himself to his nanny, he continued to emerge from between dresses on racks to offer me astute suggestions that made me giggle. I didn’t see him anywhere when Fran and I left the store, so I called out, “‘Bye, Jonathan! Have a good life!”

Fran and I were halfway up the block when I heard, “Wait!” I turned around, and Jonathan was running toward me. I swept him into my arms and swung him around, and he hugged me tightly. As his nanny hurried toward us, I whispered, “Thank you!” He waved to me over her shoulder, but even though they disappeared into the store again, he must have left himself, fifteen minutes of himself at the age of three, inside my heart.

There sits a man whose name I don’t know, an elderly man who sat beside me in a counseling group I attended after my first divorce. I was a single mom, lonely, scared, and withdrawn, but I didn’t think it showed. I didn’t want it to show. I never saw him look at me, but he reached over, silently wrapped his hand around mine, so that our forearms were touching, and gently patted it as we listened to the speaker, as if it were precious, as if I were precious, as if he knew me better than I knew myself. I had never known, and I was thirty-one, that a simple human touch could feel so deeply comforting and reassuring. I don’t even remember what he looks like, but here he is, inside this chamber in my heart.

There sits a young man, a musician who put an ad in the paper looking for a babysitting job. Two evenings a week, as soon as Clint arrived, little Eric would tell me, “You can go now, Mom, ‘bye, have a fun time.” When I came home from my counseling group, Eric would tell me all the things they’d done together, and then as my little boy fell asleep on the couch between us, Clint would stay, way past the hours for which he would let me pay him, and let me talk, single-mom-me, until I, too, was sleepy. He had so much room in his heart. I wish I could tell him, as he sits there playing his guitar, what a wonderful man Eric has become.

There’s Mrs. Raymond, my seventh-grade English teacher, telling me that I could be a writer someday. She was the only person who ever said that to me when I was young. And there’s Mrs. Asquith, my eighth-grade history teacher, who during activities period braided my hair and whispered conspiratorially to my only girl friend, another self-consciously shy thirteen-year-old, that she, too, liked people like me better than she did people like so-and-so, naming a popular girl in school. I loved her for that.

There’s my senior-year English teacher. Wait a minute, what’s he doing in here? I thought I despised him! He decided that we college-bound students needed several weeks’ review of fifth-grade grammar. He explained subjects and predicates, to our unbelieving ears, as if we were foreigners, dividing noun from verb with exaggerated sweeps of his arms, the butterfly stroke of sentence structure. It was his secret desire, we were convinced, to flunk us all — he gave us A-F quizzes on the literature we were reading (one wrong was an F), and on each quiz was one question that we hadn’t covered in class, like, what was Shakespeare’s true love’s mother’s maiden name?

One day we wore paper balls-and-chains around our ankles, shuffling into class for yet another hour of rolling our eyes behind his back.

He assigned each of us a day on which we would teach the class the material we were covering. Those who had done so before me had groaned at lunchtime that it had taken them all night to prepare, since we didn’t know until a day before what our assignment would be. He stopped me in the hall one morning to tell me that since so-and-so was absent, I would be the one teaching that afternoon. I watched him walk away, with angry tears burning my eyes at how unfair he was.

So when did he slip into this chamber in my heart? Several of us seniors complained to the head of the English department. He did not come back the following year. Word got around that he’d had a nervous breakdown. And for a moment, my heart must have opened, just the tiniest bit, just enough to let him in, for there he is, pulling compassion from my observing eyes, possibly a distraught and lonely gay man in a sixties’ high school.

And there’s Mr. Neiman, my senior math teacher, who, seeing me crying in the hallway, told me I could use his math class to prepare for teaching English that afternoon. With one small act of kindness, he restored my faith in human beings.

I see so many people in here, more than I can count. I’m so happy that I’ve found them all in here, and, knowing that they’ll be here, any time I want to look again, I slip back out into the corridor.

Running my hand along the smooth warmth of the gently pulsing wall, walking barefoot on the fleshy floor, bathed in a soft red glow, I notice another hint of light, another slit. I slip through the opening. Inside this chamber, I find myself looking at a beautiful spherical world of blue and white, floating in space. Oh, well, of course, I should have known I’d find her in my heart, her and her entire family of living beings, not only those nestled close, the animals and plants, the creatures of the sea, the rocks and clouds, but those other members of her family, the sun and planets, and her distant relatives, the stars. I can’t remember how many times my heart has opened to take them all in, looking at a photograph of Jupiter, feeling the sun on my shoulders, being greeted by a gentle giraffe in a drive-through park, waving to a family on a canal in Thailand, watching meercats on PBS, standing in awe beneath a natural arch of red-gold stone, getting drenched in a thunderstorm, catching sight of a glowing meteor plunging to earth. This chamber seems to have no walls. I could lose myself in here. I can come here any time, to do exactly that.

I follow the curving corridor around the inner chambers, curious about what else I’ll find in this heart of mine. Haven’t I already found it all? But here’s another glowing entrance. I slip inside. It’s so bright in here, my eyes need to adjust. What am I looking at? Shimmering, floating essences. Are they fairies? Angels? Guardian spirits? There in the background is a crystalline city. I remember coming here, in my dreams. I remember being led into a room full of books, the records of my lives. Some of them were thin, others rather hefty. I pulled one from the shelf and saw a bookmark in it, so I knew how much of this life I had already written.

Aha, this must be where my imagination and the invisible reality interface. (If hearing and sight are created by the interference patterns of the frequencies that we and our holographic environment are made of, then isn’t imagination also a sense, one that relays to us what the others do not?) This chamber is where I can learn to understand and love even more than I can with my physical senses. Yes, there, I see, more of my visions, my inspirations and aspirations. This is where I first saw my largest painting. I couldn’t wait to put it on canvas. This is where I’ve met my future self. This is where I can come to refine the use of my third eye. The host of healing spirits that her teacher saw hovering around my daughter Fawni, I could learn to see them here. They’re in my heart. I love them for being Fawni’s helpers. The angels whose presence we have felt when any of my friends has prayed for guidance or help, the ethereal essences of souls not in bodies, the forms taken by messengers in my dreams, even others’ visions, Black Elk’s, Vivaldi’s, Rudolph Steiner’s, Graham Hancock’s, are in this chamber. Oh, my, I don’t want to leave. I feel so much love and inspiration and abundance in here. I’m so glad I can come back whenever I want to.

I turn around, slip myself through the pliable opening in the pulsing wall, and listen to the gentle thud-thud, thud-thud as I walk along, bathed in a vermilion glow.

Within the next chamber I see me, every moment of this lifetime so far. I don’t have to wait until I die for a life review. I can look at everything I’ve ever done, right here in my heart, and because of how it feels to be in here, I can love it all, even though I was so often foolish, hurtful, even cruel. As I stand in here, looking at that little girl, that young woman, that midlife-crisis maniac, this post-menopausal crone, I can see that as I embrace all of my aspects, all of my moments, I can live the rest of my life with all of them inside me, nestled in my heart.

Well, let me see, that was four chambers, but what’s this, another entrance? What’s in here? Oh, hi, great Cosmic Birther! Mind at large, Consciousness, quantum foam, Allah, Tao, Self, Dreamer, Universe, God, Great Mystery. Look at all those names and faces giving creative form to Light and Love!

Okay, so, have I come full circle yet? I better check into this next one to see. Oh, my. This is where I harbor all the suffering of the world. All the anguish, all the sadness, all the grief. Right here in my heart. Now I know why it hurts so much sometimes. It must be connected to all these other hearts throbbing with what else this life is still about. This is where I make my vow to ease the pain by balancing its weight with joy.

Is this it, then? Yes, this next chamber looks like the first… no, wait. There are people in here, but I don’t recognize them. I can’t even see their faces, really. Who are these people? People I haven’t met yet! They’re already in my heart? Oh, it’s good to know this room is here. Always room for more.

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