By Brittany Anne Smith

I learned a word yesterday that I had yet to ever encounter: willowwack. It means “a wooded, uninhabited area.” It’s an awfully silly sounding word, but I do love what it implies: portions of space yet to be “habitated.” Of course, I have no use for this word in the literal sense; I immediately thought of it metaphorically- as in, “the uninhabited regions of my soul” or, “the uncharted corners of my heart.” With all the immeasurable fibers that make up our beings, surely there are portions of ourselves yet undiscovered? Absolutely, there must be fragments of our hearts yet unearthed?

Quite the admirer of all things romantic, I have always appreciated the notion that the love we emote is physiologically connected to the heart. Did you know that our hearts are enclosed in a double-walled protective sac called the pericardium? Yeah, me neither. The pericardium services our heart by protecting it, anchoring its surrounding structures, and preventing overfilling of the heart with blood. Past the pericardium lies the outer wall of the heart, which is composed of three layers, and just past those three layers are the four chambers of the heart. Two of those chambers are “receiving chambers” (they receive the blood) and two are “discharging chambers” (release the blood). The heart, in essence, does its best to keep the “bad” out. It sustains the body. And it does all it can to prevent itself from becoming full to the point of danger. Now, dare to venture with me to my much favored and oft-visited land, Metaphoria, where I ask:

Q. Do our metaphorical hearts do the same? Do our metaphorical pericardia protect us from heartache?
A. I think my metaphorical pericardium must only have one layer instead of two, and that that layer must be very thin or take lots of holidays, or is just completely defunct, because many an entity has penetrated its walls.
Q. Does the love we harbor- in essence, our heart- anchor our livability?
A. Yes, love anchors me.
Q. Is there a danger in letting our hearts be too filled?
A. I can attest to having my heart [seemingly] so filled that it has inflicted upon my well-being.

I think of all this in relation to willowwacks: uninhabited areas. I talk frequently and fondly of my own heartstrings; I consider those to be “habitated” portions of my heart. Those people, or places, or things, have made their way past all protective guards and into one chamber or another and found a welcoming home there. It is those heartstrings which anchor me. But I know that as full as my heart may feel from time to time, that there are still uninhabited portions of those chambers. There are still willowwacks within my heart waiting to become habitated.

Those uninhabited areas – why are they so? Has a metaphorical pericardium made them inaccessible? Rumi did say, after all, that our task is not to find love, but to find the barriers within ourselves we’ve built against it. Or, maybe that pericardium isn’t out of commission, but there areas so deeply and secretly and quietly tucked away such that no one has ventured far enough to discover them? Or, is at is simple and as complex as they are uninhabited merely because no one and no thing has been able to make a home there? Yet?

Those chambers or portions of chambers, corners, taverns, and pockets of our hearts that are willowwacked (please allow me to take liberties with the word, for it wouldn’t be the first time) they must remain uninhabited for one or all of the aforementioned theories. But to me that is not a completely desperate thought- it’s an inspiring one. Knowing that there are still unfulfilled, unharvested, un-tilled, undiscovered areas of love that I have yet to experience is altogether exhilarant.

I believe that the habitation some of those inner willowwacks happens because of what already lies dormant within us – the quiet allure of charting new directions. As we seek out enrichment, enlightenment, joy, compassion, fulfillment- little by little the uninhabited regions of our hearts will become home to the offspring of those endeavors. It’s like following a blueprint for the grand design of who we are meant to be.

I for one know that certain parts of my heart are uninhabited because no one has been able to penetrate it earnestly enough to take root there. Maybe no one has had the right tools and the right formula to till the fertile ground that waits there. However, if I’m unsure of when, I’m absolutely convinced of the notion that once tilled, the ground there will be floriferous beyond imagining.

My heart has been impacted, without a doubt, and it has been filled with affection to a debilitating degree at times. The metaphorical “protective sac” surrounding my heart has given entrance to many a wanderer. But feeble and perhaps relenting as that protective layer may be, I am grateful for it’s open-mindedness. For no matter how it may end, inviting Love in, no matter how long it stays, will always do a soul more good than harm, if only for the small glimpses into humanity that it brings.

As silly a word as I’ve ever heard, yet it has inspired me to think beyond the peripheral. Love is true when it can make Its way through the pericardium, over and under and through the many cardiac walls, and make lasting home in the receiving chamber. And as this chamber and that chamber cease to be willowwacks, but become alive and full and habitated with the things that anchor us, we become more alive and full in the process.

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