The Inside Story

Heartscapes: The Inside Story


In the 1958 movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, reference is made to a traditional Chinese wish for these five Happinesses: Virtue, Tranquility, Wealth, Position, and Peaceful Death. The movie suggests that the Sixth Happiness might well be Listening to Stories.

Heartscapes came into being as part of our personal journey, a quest that took us deep into the enticing (and many would say risky) world of past loves.

It was early in our life together, almost twenty years ago, when we began to explore what people do with their memories of past loves after they move into another significant relationship. We had discovered, through our own experience as a couple, that sharing fully what our previous loves meant to us contributed substantially to our emotional intimacy. But how, we wondered, do others handle this quite sensitive part of their pasts? We decided to ask. What we found became the basis for our book, If Only I Could Tell You...Where Past Loves and Current Intimacy Meet, published in 2006.

Then, in 2007, as part of our hope to foster greater awareness of the importance of past loves in today’s relationships, we decided to sponsor a Past Loves Day Story Contest. Asking for true stories about former sweethearts, we suggested that each entrant write their story as if talking with a best friend. In response, the authors wrote with surprising emotional honesty, covering a wide range of experiences, in different times and places. And many thanked us for offering the contest, saying how important it was for them to have a chance to tell that personal love story.

Given the first contest’s success, we made it an annual event. Over the years, the stories continued to touch us; while reading them aloud together, we often found ourselves momentarily sitting in silence, with moist eyes, immersed in the intensity of what we had just experienced. Occasionally, we laughed together when an author recalled a delicious, humorous moment.

As the stories from the contest accumulated, it was apparent that we were in possession of a treasure. This led us, in the spring of 2010, to decide that an anthology would be the best way to offer some of these compelling stories to a wider audience.

Here, then, are the 154 stories we felt best represent the emotional depth and variety found in the contest entries as a whole. Except for the very first group, where the authors all speak directly to, rather than about, the past love who inspired the "love letter," the stories are grouped under twenty-one loosely defined themes. But many stories might just as easily have been placed differently, to emphasize another aspect of that romance.

In a few instances, we were unable to make contact with the authors of stories we wanted to publish here. Fortunately, most of these may be read on our website,

Every story in Heartscapes confirms the belief that human emotions are universal. Some express the nuances of different languages and diverse cultures, but the feelings themselves are reassuringly familiar.

To tell a story of such an intimate nature requires a certain kind of courage. You must recall, with tenderness, just what you still cherish about a special earlier love. And you must be willing to allow, in the telling, your heart to once again be touched. We are grateful to all who chose to take the risk of sharing these stories, who invited us into the sacred space of their deeply personal memories of love and loss. They encourage each of us to remember an earlier love who is woven into the fabric of our being, to be open to what lingers in our own heart.

May "listening" to these stories become a Sixth Happiness in the lives of all who find their way to them.

—Kate Harper and Leon Marasco