When she was a teenager, Lily was so distraught over something that she can’t even remember now, that she ran off into the woods, to the big tree she had always looked to for comfort. She sat down on the mossy, grassy ground and cried her problems out one by one. Though she begged it to, the tree never answered or offered it’s advice.
Exhausted and spent, Lily lay down on the moss at the foot of the tree. She hoped it would grow around her and she could stay there, in that safe beautiful place where her heart could no longer be broken. As so often happened when she cried every last tear, she began to yawn, and drifted into a deep sleep.
A tapping on her foot pulled her from her slumber. Groggy and squinting, because the sun had begun to set, Lily brushed away what she thought was a mosquito or horsefly from her foot.
It tapped again. Jolted from her reverie by a sudden, cold fear about what, or who, was tapping on her foot, she sat up quickly, prepared to scream, and tucked her feet beneath her.
There was no one there. Just the woods, the moss, and her favorite tree.
Which was waving at her.
“Was it you?” Lily asked.
“Yes,” said the tree.
Was she dreaming? Had she finally lost her marbles completely?
“Do not be afraid,” the tree began, though Lily couldn’t discern where exactly the voice was coming from, she didn’t see a mouth.
“I can heal your heart,” Tree finished.
Lily did not believe in fairy tales and talking trees. Not anymore, anyway, so she stayed quiet.
“And I can make it so the broken parts will never hurt again,” Tree continued, “for every time I heal your heart, I’ll do it with stone. For every crack I heal with stone, your heart will no longer feel hurt there. I’ll save the pieces, and someday I will give them back.”
“Why would I want the broken pieces?” Lily asked.
“You will,” Tree said, “it is almost always so. Once I give them back, they can never be returned to stone.”
Mother Tree watched the small girl, so young and naive, ponder the offer.
“Shall we give it a try?”
Lily nodded. Since she didn’t believe in fairy tales and talking trees, she wasn’t expecting much.
“Do you remember what broke your heart today?”
Lily did remember, but when she thought about it now, she felt strong and confident and she no longer felt like crying into the moss.
“The same thing that hurt you will never hurt you again,” Tree said.
Lily nodded in understanding, trying out the new stone pieces of her heart, looking for a crack or weak spot to return her to a crying mess. She couldn’t find a single reason to cry.
“Come back to me,” Tree explained, “whenever your heart is cracked. I won’t talk to you again, but I will know why you are here. Now you must leave before darkness falls.”
Lily hugged Tree, pressing her cheek against its jagged bark, whispering, “Thank you” as she left.
Lily crept into the house and into her bed, not wanting to have to explain to her family why she had been gone until nighttime. In the morning Lily woke with a start, and a sinking feeling that it had all been a dream.
Then she checked her heart. It still felt strong, resilient and fearless. It couldn’t have been a dream.
Lily never told a soul about the gift the Tree had given her.
She used it over and over. When she was bullied at school or teased at the bus stop or accidentally did something mortifying, which happens quite a bit when you’re a teenager.
She wrapped her arms around the tree, pressed her heart against it and silently asked for help.
Lily made it through high school, her heart patched with stone. What hurt her could never hurt her again, which made her less afraid of the world and more optimistic in general. Everyone is afraid of hurt, she learned, and to not be afraid made her different. She could hurt because she knew she could be healed.
“Imagine,” she told one of her hurting college friends, “that your heart was healed with stone, and that you can no longer be hurt like that ever again.”
“Yeah right,” her friend had replied, blowing her nose.
When Lily fell in love she did it fearlessly. It turned out she did believe in fairytales. Wasn’t everything a leap of faith after all?
They were married soon after, and Lily set about having a career. Her strength, fearlessness and resiliency were key to her success. She worked hard and she took chances. Lily was a born leader, and her colleagues and teams liked and respected her.
Not that her heart didn’t still get broken. People and pets she loved died. She got into a bad fight with her sister. She hadn’t spoken to her high school best friend for years. Her husband had not turned out to be Prince Charming.
Lily felt a coldness in her heart, lately, that made her uncomfortable. Eventually, nothing and no one would be able to hurt her again. Would that mean she would never fall in love again? Never have a best friend?
The day she found out her husband had slept with another woman, she left. First to the bank to close and reopen accounts, then to the utility companies to have her name removed, then to a divorce attorney, and finally, to Tree.
Lily sat down at the base of the tree, leaning sideways against it. She cried for the love she had wasted, the life she had dreamed, the family she had envisioned. She cried because she knew that if love could never hurt her again, then she would never love again.
Lily told herself all of the reasons why her life was good. She had friends and a career and even a little money in the bank. She was healthy and strong. She would always overcome.
Lily tipped her head back and yelled to the sky. “Why is that not enough for me? Why can’t I be happy with that?”
The sky did not answer, and as always, Tree worked its magic and she soon felt better. She could heal, that was her gift.
Even when she found out she was pregnant, she didn’t cry. Love couldn’t hurt her. She didn’t worry about her failed marriage and broken family. She would love this baby, she already did.
When they settled Lily’s newborn daughter in her arms she felt a warmth that overwhelmed her. This tiny, perfect human being that had grown inside of her, now finally in her arms.
The first six weeks Lily never left the house or her bathrobe. Lily began to worry. She had no idea what she was doing. This was not a well documented project or a team that needed motivating. How could she be expected to even know what her daughter wanted when all she did was cry? Lily paced the floors, rocked and jiggled and patted and fed and changed and tried to keep this little human who had been entrusted to her safe. She felt as though her very life depended on this child being ok.
One night, when the baby had been crying for hours and Lily was sleep deprived, sore and exhausted, she packed her into the car and took her for a drive.
Tree was there waiting. Lily hadn’t visited Tree since she’s found out she was pregnant. Maybe, whatever was hurting the baby the tree would be able to heal. Maybe her tree could give the baby the same gift.
Lily held the baby, now sleeping, close while she sat and leaned against the tree. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes. Lily had never been more tired in her life.
She woke to a tapping on her foot. Lily jumped, startling the baby who squirmed and settled back to sleep.
“Your heart is beautiful,” said Tree.
“My heart?” asked Lily, confused. She checked her heart- still no pain about her recent divorce.
“You asked for it back when you wanted love.”
“I don’t feel it,” Lily said, “my heart is still patched with stone.”
Tree pointed at the baby.
“She is my heart?” Lily gasped, “I cannot keep her safe! I don’t even know what I’m doing! She’s going to get hurt! I’m going to get hurt!”
“I cannot change the pieces back to stone.”
Lily looked at her daughter, her heart. She was made of all the pieces Lily had left behind.
Lily felt scared for the first time in years.
“It’s going to be okay,” Tree reassured her, “you will get hurt. She will get hurt, but now you know you can heal.”
Lily drove home in a daze. She left the baby in her car seat next to the bed and fell asleep.
Lily woke to the sun slanting across the bed and realized she had slept all night without the baby waking her up. She rushed to the edge of the bed, instantly terrified she wouldn’t be breathing, but baby blinked her eyes and almost smiled when she saw her mom.
Lily unbuckled the baby, changed her and fed her and rocked her.
“My heart,” she whispered, “I will keep you safe as long as I can. If anything happens to you, I will die.”
As her daughter grew, Lily enjoyed all the pieces of her heart that she had given to her daughter, seeing the world through her eyes, feeling the world through her.
To her amazement, she did not die when her heart got hurt. But oh did she hurt. Like she had never hurt before, the pain was endless and unfathomable.
Lily went back to her tree. She begged the tree to make it go away. Lily couldn’t do it anymore . Her heart was breaking.
Tree remained quiet, just a tree. Lily didn’t have to check her heart to know it still hurt.
Lily knew what she had to do.
She would teach her daughter, her heart, how to grow a heart of stone.