I believe there is a garden in our heart where some part of everyone we’ve ever loved takes root. And no matter what happens in the world of circumstance, we continue to love them in that interior garden. We may lose someone to death, betrayal, mistrust, or cowardice. We may find that we fail each other, or discover that, love each other as we might, being together is toxic. Or we may be torn apart by world events—wars, injustice, or natural disasters. Yet we never stop loving them, not a one. And so, they live in the garden in our heart, waiting for us to visit them in our dreams and to summon their better angels in the still moments that we earn.

Recognizing this inner garden has changed how I react to the pangs of loss. When I miss someone who has turned hurtful or cruel, it doesn’t mean I need to resurrect the relationship. That I still love them doesn’t mean I have to undo my resolve and find a way to see them. More deeply, feeling my love for those who are absent means I need to go inward and spend time harvesting the lessons of how we came to love each other and how we came to hurt each other. Feeling their presence doesn’t mean I need to go back, but rather that I need to go forward, allowing the love I feel to evolve beyond the trials of our actual relationship.

Honoring the garden in our heart also means I don’t have to exile my feelings in order to protect myself. I don’t have suppress my love for anyone, even after they’ve hurt me. Whether relationships continue or not, my capacity to love must endure. And so, I need an inner space in which my love, in all its attempts, can continue to express itself. I need an inner space in which my love can evolve over time. To grow in our love requires that we discern the truth of what stirred our love and what failed our love, in us and in those we have cared for.

A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of someone who lives in the garden of your heart, though they may be gone or the relationship hasn’t worked out. What space do they occupy within you?

This excerpt is from my book in progress, The Spirit of Friendship.