The Heart Beneath the Brushstrokes

mona lisa

A friend recently gave me a sage piece of advice, “Remember, everyone suffers from a broken heart.”

My background is in art history, and I’ll never forget standing in awe before Da Vinci’s, Mona Lisa at the Louvre, furiously taking notes and photographs. The Professor said, “A memorable portrait reveals a depth beyond the hue of pinky flesh, the dangle of a pearl earring, razor-sharp jaw line, and the mischievous cut of the eyes—a true artist draws your eyes to the heart.”

There is no greater artform than the human being–complicated, layered, colorful, mysterious, fractured, luminous, resilient, and awe-inspiring.

The Artist’s signature is the heart– courageously beating beneath life’s brushstrokes.

And for most of us, that heart has been broken a time or two. It’s written in the Divine contract–to love is to suffer.

Often we are guilty of sizing up someone’s portrait, without considering the story of their heart. When someone comes across as being cold, unkind, and even rude, we are quick to judge. The ruse of a smile, witty repartee, and stoic reserve also keep us from seeing the truth.

Several years ago a French scientist invented an infrared light to take a deeper look at the beguiling Mona Lisa. Beneath the layers of gesso, varnish, and oil paint, he discovered a work of art in progress. The sketch beneath revealed the artist’s mistakes, struggles, and perseverance. It is the same with each of our lives. We are a work in progress. Life is messy, beautiful, and always challenging us.

Peeking beneath the brushstrokes, we discover that we are actually much more alike than different. Each of our hearts have been broken by something, or sadly, many things in this life. Although we may be able to hide behind the infamous Mona Lisa smile, the hurt is sketched underneath in tears.

If you have ever ridden the subway, or as they call it, “The Tube,” in London you have heard the train conductor belting over the loud intercom, “Mind the Gap,”as the train opens its doors. In a perfect British accent, the conductor is trying to prevent you from falling under the train. It’s a brilliant piece of life advice. There is this invisible space between what we think we see or project to the world and what is really happening at the seat of the heart. We have to honor the space between one another. Life breaks our hearts–grief, a diagnosis, unrealized dreams, broken relationships, betrayal, terrible loss, addiction— And yet, the world keeps turning.

If only we would handle one another with the same amount of compassion that we yearn for ourselves.

There is a reason it’s called, The Golden Rule–do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 

We live in a world of broken hearts. Put on your kit gloves the next time you go to the grocery store, the gas station, interact with family members, friends, even strangers. Each of them has a story. It’s the universal story of a broken heart.

Beneath the brushstrokes, we each wear an invisible tag that reads, “Handle with Care.”

Live in Hope,




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