My thoughts, as I was turning the lights off and tucking blankets around little snoring bodies, were dancing around the idea that once you hit your teenage years, (approximately the ages of 15-18), you feel invincible. You are finally starting to understand the world, and the little knowledge you have, plus an amazing confidence that you can do anything you set your mind to, explodes in your body and nothing can get you down. You can be faced with a life or death situation, and you can confidently make a choice, knowing that somehow everything will work out. This is the only time in your life that you can be this bold. You are convinced that the world is made for you to experience it. Naivete can be a very dangerous thing, but in this time it is an advantage. You have not truly met failure yet: in fact sometimes you wonder if it even exists.
You don't start off this confident. As a baby you are completely dependent on your parental figures with no abilities of your own. Slowly you become more independent, but only in your own little protected world. Yes, at the age of 11, you can probably fix your own (if meager) meals, amuse yourself with various media (books, tv, games, etc...), dress yourself, put yourself to bed, clean up your own mess, even briefly watch over a younger sibling or a pet. In your small world, this is utter independence. But it is when you grow into a teenager that you start to gain your confidence in the outside world. It's your first trial run as an adult, and you can't lose.
The invincibility is imagined, of course. Teenagers die every day: some from accidents, some from bad choices, some intentional. But in some ways, believing is doing: there are stories every day about teenagers who do amazing things that no one could have survived. I personally follow the idea that if you believe something enough, it is real. Either because your faith made it exist, or because it existed all along. But I digress.
Sometime as you stumble along in this bubble of awesome, a person usually experiences their first love. Not just a crush, but an actual love requiring interaction between two individuals, no matter how brief. And this is where the first crack appears.
Imagine your heart in an idealistic fashion for a moment. A red, 3-dimensional puffy heart, completely encased with a golden, glowing shield. This is a teenager's heart. Your heart is strong, whole, proud, but it is also slightly immature. The first time you love, you have to open yourself up to vulnerability. You can't experience love if it is locked away inside a golden orb. You have to cut open your shield. As the shield is so closely connected to your heart, you end up cutting your heart a little, too. This wound, although painful to the touch, also allows you to love, and to bond. Your partner's heart, which has also been cut open, presses up against yours, and between the two they staunch the flow, and eventually tissue grows over both hearts and together you are invincible.
It is a different kind though: you are dependent on the other. Being alone reopens the wound. Together it grows back together, and you are strong, but you now have a weakness. Now let's say this love is not meant to be, and both hearts permanently rip apart. Your heart does eventually heal. Your shield is mostly intact, but there is a scar running directly down the middle. You feel a little weaker, a little more vulnerable, but a lot more wiser than you have ever been. You know pain now, internal pain that no medicine but time can touch, and you can deal with it. You can be brave about your weakness, and act in spite of it.
Time marches on, and your heart beats strong. Maybe it meets up with a few more hearts, connecting and then ripping apart. It hurts, it always does, but it heals into a scar, and you keep going. One day you meet the heart that matches perfectly with yours, and they connect in a new and solid way. But for the first time, you feel your invincibility is truly compromised: there will never be a time again when you only have yourself to worry about. You will always keep an open wound held tightly closed with someone else's heart. You need their love like you never needed anything before. So you take your weakness, and you accept it, and you grow a little braver about it. You know you can be hurt, but you step forward into life anyway, knowing that it is a little more precious now that you have someone else to live for.
For some, that is the pinnacle of the story. It is enough to love someone and to be loved in return, and walk hand in hand to eternity. But for many, it doesn't end there. Your heart changes again.
You take your heart, and out of the strongest, purest part, you cut a piece off of it. You bind it with a piece of your partner's heart, and it grows into a child. Their heart blossoms, new, innocent, beaming with love and beauty. Your heart is permanently missing a piece, but it is not gone, just moved. To compensate, your heart swells bigger and more brilliant than before, but it always strains towards the missing parts. With each new child, you cut one more piece out, and create more love. But never again will you play with the idea of invincibility. Your shield has vanished: your heart outgrew it when it pushed past its borders to protect and love the piece that had flown away.
As a result, you are more brave than you have ever been. You willingly put yourself in front of objects, ideas, or people that would harm the little pieces of your heart that have broken free to live on their own. Even when you are the most vulnerable you have ever been, and you stand to lose more than ever before, you are a soldier, a warrior, a surrogate shield and protector. You do not take so much as a minute to consider your bravery: your actions are instinctual, and as old as the oldest soul born into the world. But even as you step more cautiously through life, careful to keep watch on all your scattered pieces, guarding their own vulnerability until their own shields grow, you live with more love, compassion, and emotion than you ever thought your little heart could handle. That's because it has grown, through its experiences, into more than you ever could possibly be alone. Your strength lies not in your defenses, but in the sheer power of your love. It is this love that carries us up and over the scars and wounds torn in our heart and sustains us, and by default our family, through the ups and downs of life, until it is time to lay your heart to rest. It rests depleted and sated, and having given its all, now lays down and slumbers with no regrets. The pieces, now grown into mature hearts of their own, are possibly bonded with others, or even creating their own pieces to carry the love on.
They are the legacy of your first injury, the first time you questioned your invincibility and cut your heart open to allow another in. They are the progeny of your first act of true bravery.