Bleeding Hearts

Today I went to the regular midwest tractor supply in midwest nowhere at the behest of my mom, for the mere promise that it would be “real fast.” However, as I dashed to the back of the store, I stopped for a moment by a rack with fledgling plants nearly stacked on top of one another.

In the middle with a picture of plush, pink hearts drooping from a vine-like stem were bleeding hearts. Every year I stop by these little plants, a smirk to myself about “bleeding hearts” which in no clear one way or another I could explain to someone without my poor sense of humor. The plants always give me a bizarre sense of nostalgia for a place I never lived; of cottage countrysides far removed from the wastelands of suburban middle America. After the lull of standing awkwardly in front of the bleeding hearts, wrenching my own away, I checked out with my arms full and left. 

I’m unsure if it’s the term “bleeding hearts” that stuck in my skull that day, or some wayward piece of inspiration waiting in the shadows, but I couldn’t pull myself from the loop in my mind of those bloodied plants. I’ve always been interested in bleeding hearts, a term coined by conservative journalist Westbrook Pegler in his criticisms of FDR, as a poetic symbol. The definition goes on to state that the term is used to describe someone with excessive sympathy for another’s misfortune. But what is it, that is, for the unfortunate term to host such a negative connotation, to put others down simply for having too much sympathy. 

My own fascination with bleeding hearts encompasses the idea that those sympathetic enough burden themselves with unnecessary things and that care too greatly after that which should not be cared about end up harming themselves the most when everything is said and done. The bleeding heart is never good, much like a broken heart, it bears illness. So others tell us to harden our hearts, to turn away from that which garners sympathy, which causes our hearts to bleed in the first place. Is it for our own good? Or is it for another more selfish reason? I’ve always thought that those that told me to guard myself have told me to do so out of the kindness of their own heart; I have found that to rarely be the case. 

I know my own heart has bled for too many things and too many people. There has always been those that snickered at my own foolishness; and foolish it may be. Yet, I believe a bleeding heart heals because its first function is to exist and to bleed again. 

Many of us have bleeding hearts, but we are told we should not. But the great beauty, the poetry, lays in the ability to have too much sympathy. What’s wrong with being too sympathetic?

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