In the early to mid 1990’s there was a quirky band, at the heart of which was a husband and wife team. The romantic and musical connection of one Harriett Wheeler and David Gavurin would lead to the formation of the band The Sundays, in which one was the lead singer and the other a guitarist. Over the course of their all-too-brief career, they released three albums which were moderately successful, and their last hit single was a beautiful song called “Summertime.” In the song Wheeler opines that some people wind up in a heart-shaped hotel room, which is what a heart is for, while others end up in conflict. The singer appears to have been successful in her personal life, which she properly keeps very private, where she and her husband have a few children and where she has been on hiatus for a couple of decades. Yet in appreciating this band, one can hardly do better than to remember its quirky music, especially the lovely dream pop of “Summertime,” with its sense of optimism, a sense I am often missing in my own life.
It should be noted that this adorable song views a heart-shaped hotel room with two honeymooning lovers as being what a heart is for. To what extent does this make sense? Why do I even ask? I feel it necessary to point out at this point that I am a romanticist, an intellectual with a high degree of passionate feeling, often of a melancholy and particularly tragic sort, of the type of person as C.S. Lewis or Goethe . For a romantic, at least as it is commonly understood, matters of the heart simply are pursued implicitly and automatically, but for a romanticist, feelings not only exist but are also capable of and generally subject to a great deal of searching analysis. These are the internal consequences. Externally, the greater restraint of the romanticist tends to encourage other people to believe that emotional longings are attenuated or nonexistent, something that has long been the case in my own life. As a person of glacial emotional restraint and rather intense prickliness, there have been many people and many occasions where I have been thought to lack feeling where I only lacked the perceived freedom to express it openly. Having spent a great deal of time and effort in restraining problematic feelings, it is difficult to release them safely. And yet the purpose of a heart is to be connected with others. We were created as relational beings, for better or worse, and that fact has some pretty serious consequences.
One of the unpleasant consequences of growing up in a broken family is witnessing the stormy effects of the unmet intense emotional needs of one’s parents. Of the two, my late father was the one less able to meet his emotional needs. A sociable being of enforced cheer, he did not feel comfortable letting anyone else inside his own vulnerable and deeply wounded heart, and his occasionally sarcastic wit did not exactly encourage other people to let down their defenses either. My mother, on the other hand, was someone whose emotional needs were far more easy to recognize on the surface, as someone who always felt it necessary to have her heart directed in some direction, whether it was the best direction for that longing to be directed or not. In many ways, I can identify with both of my parents. Like my father, I have a good deal of enforced surface cheer as well as a certain reluctance to open my heart in the absence of trust, and like my mother, my consistent need to point my intense but frustrated longings in some direction have tended to go spectacularly awry. The prickly pear, in other words, did not fall far from the tree.
What is to be done about this, though? My own thoughts about my feelings are predictably complicated. I believe it is of the utmost importance to acknowledge our feelings and longings, to openly admit them, even where they may be inconvenient and problematic. After all, mine often are. That said, I do not believe our longings are the arbiters of our existence, but rather that they are subject to the laws of God and man, and are not themselves legitimate simply because they exist. The fact that we have longings that are all too often against the laws of God and man does not mean that those laws are wicked and corrupt and without force in our lives, but rather that we are bent and broken. And we are. How to acknowledge feelings in an atmosphere of safety while also living lives of restraint and propriety is not an easy task, but such is the quest we are called upon to live. If we are fortunate, we have longings for those who have longings for us and nothing stands in the way for us to enjoy that heart-shaped hotel room that reminds us that is what a heart is for in the first place. Not everyone is that fortunate, though, either now or ever.
 See, for example: