Jar of Hearts

All artwork © Oliver Jeffers

All artwork © Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers is an award-winning picture book maker who works in a melancholic and moving idiom. My favourite of his many titles is The Heart and the Bottle, a beautifully illustrated story about a young girl who loses someone dear to her, and who then literally keeps her heart in a bottle, wary and afraid of loving again and living her life, lest she be hurt by loss and grief.

This simple allegorical tale lays bare a modern malaise that I observe with regularity. Whether it is due to bereavement and loss, or painful past experiences, so many people go through life protecting their hearts at all cost without being quite aware of it. The most obvious example of such behaviour can be seen in what popular culture terms ‘commitment phobes’, people who are unable or unwilling to settle on definitive choices in their life. Scratch below the surface of this stereotype, and perhaps what we will find are people who are afraid of giving their heart to something or someone. This fear could be the result of an unconscious aversion or fear of the person or thing in question, or it could be an existential issue that permeates the individual’s entire life.

People often are afraid to live and to love, living circumscribed lives that are fundamentally unfulfilling though they may not always be aware of this. Modern living affords many distractions and opportunities to paper over the yawning void left by keeping hearts under lock and key. But in the quiet stillness of the soul that occasionally gets a chance to be heard, many people become aware of the emptiness where their hearts should be: life is busy but not exactly full of meaning; relationships are full but not exactly rich in love; days go by without much conscious awareness…

So many hearts in so many bottles. Maybe it’s time to do the brave thing, which is the hard thing, and to put those hearts back where they belong, take a deep breath, and live.