Heart in a Bottle

Dear Hsieh With You readers, happy new year. What a year 2020 has been. And I think I can safely say that none of us were prepared for the life-changing year. In face of the uncertainties that still loom large in regards to the pandemic, more specifically when will it end and when can life go back to “normal,” I would like to share with you a picture book that has inspired me during the tough times. It is The Heart and the Bottle, written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers.

The story opens with the introduction of a little girl, “much like any other,” who is excited and passionate about life. Her expansive curiosity is fueled by her father, who reads to her all sorts of fascinating books about the sea and the stars and the wonders of our world. Their happy life, however, soon takes a downturn after the father dies. The girl decides to protect her heart from hurting by putting it in a bottle around her neck because the pain of losing her father was so great. 

Feeling unsure, the girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place.
Just for the time being.
So she put it in a bottle and hung it around her neck.
And that seemed to fix things … at first.

The girl thought the best thing was to put her heart in a safe place, for the time being. (image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

Of course, the problem with safeguarding her heart is that the little girl no longer resembles her old, exuberant, full-off-curiosity self.

She forgot about the stars… and stopped taking notice of the sea.
She was no longer filled with all the curiosities of the world and didn’t take much notice of anything…

The little girl feels no pain, but also no happiness.

(image credit: Oliver Jeffers/The Heart and the Bottle)

One day, while walking on the beach where she had once strolled with her father, the little “girl”—now a grown woman—sees another little girl who is filled with the boundless joy and curiosity that she once had. The “girl/now woman” suddenly realizes that by locking away her loss all these years, she has also imprisoned her ability to experience the good feelings. She ultimately realizes that her heart does not belong in a bottle, but back in her body.

So let the heart jump up and down, flutter, cringe, get wrung and squeezed, and, just beat on. How’s that for a 2021 message heart in a bottle?

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