Only One Heart

By Allison Stein

I scarcely believed the reverberating sound, the cascade of words crashing against each other, belonged to me. That voice—unfiltered, uninhibited—emanated straight from my heart. I had escaped my own smothering silhouette and embodied a courage too long intangible: Finally, finally, I was free. I dreamt of crystallizing time, freezing that liberating moment, forever encapsulating the adrenaline.

As the cadence of my poem fell from my tongue, I savored the buoyancy of my spirit, the sensation of swimming: For a single second, I was unhindered by weight and untouched by fear. My lithe body—my lithe soul—had molded to the undulating waves of ecstasy, and I was flying.

Letting the audience see the stark vulnerability of burning dreams concealed under my skin, I felt a veil lifted from my face, felt as if I were taking my first breath. The final line floated from my throat before I remembered to be afraid. Only then did I realize what was at stake, the chance I had taken. Only then did I shift uncomfortably into the silhouette of my old self—the way children force their feet inside the favorite shoes they outgrew last year. Again small and powerless, I lowered my head. How could anyone have grasped any meaning or faith or truth from the rudimentary work of an emerging poet? How could I have penetrated the walls of so many spirits? I was losing the battle I had invested my life in—a whole world of judgment against only one heart.

An unfamiliar voice broke through my doubt. Two words: “Don’t quit.”

This stranger etched in my mind a dream, a drive. With only the compass of my conscience for direction, I depend on those who remind me that the needle is pointing me to the right path. Opening imagination and soul, I pray for the tenacity to embrace the trail guiding me to a greater purpose, the strength to believe I am here for a reason.

Like that empathetic man, we need to be the answer to someone else’s prayer. We need to be strong for people—even if we never know their names. Over a year later, I hold his message in retrospect as a moment wrapped in the package of memory. The voice of one person has inspired me to amplify the whisper of love in this world.

“Don’t quit.” Of all the strangers we pass in a day, how many have needed to hear those words? Yes, we each have only one heart to reach into, but we can reach out to so many more.

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