Friday, January 06, 2006

Lessons from Cardiology

Consider the blue whale. Its heart is so big that you can climb through the chambers into the aorta. With each beat, the heart is audible for 20 miles across the ocean.

The human heart isn't nearly as big or as loud. It weighs just under a pound, and someone has to lay his head on your chest to hear it moving. But so much is done and held in the heart. It beats more than 2.5 billion times in a life time - depending on how you live your life, of course. In one day, the human heart pumps blood through all 12,000 miles of vessels in your body -- that's four times the distance across the US from coast to coast.

So much has been said about the heart. We want to know the heart of the matter; we mourn our heart-breaks; we want our intentions to be heart-felt. The ancient writers of the Psalms called the heart "the well-spring of life," which must be guarded at all times. The pure of heart are chosen for heaven. Emily Dickinson measured the purpose of her life by the heart, "If I can stop one Heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain."

The heart is strong, vigorous, dynamic, yet terribly fragile at the same time. A single, miniscule bacterium that takes root on the heart valve can end a life. So can an single, untimely heart beat. The heart tears and breaks under the pressure and the pounding of life. All hearts scar and fibrose over time. The walls thicken and stiffen, and it becomes harder and harder for the heart to be moved.

Perhaps this is why the wisemen of old taught us to guard our hearts. The heart is sits safely in the toughened pericardium membrane and the bony casing of the rib cage. We put brick and mortar around our hearts, even our mothers and fathers and dearest friends and lovers never truly know us. Our hearts are tout and cold and tough and constantly on guard for intrusions.

Then in an instant, when we are not careful, our defenses fall over the smallest thing: the voice of a child, a hand gently placed in the arch of your back, the words "don't leave," the note left behind saying "it wasn't bad," the voice of your your friend from home who called the first night you moved into your dingy apartment in New York City, the memory of your mother laying in the sick bed in the ICU, still worrying about your grades and your father's daily vitamins, and the thought that you were brave enough to let someone so close to you, that he heard your heart beat.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Say no to diets and exercise regimens. To eat more carbs in the forms of crepes and canolies. To buy an out-of-print book and read it in my bed. To buy an original recording LP and listen to it in the dark. To wear more skirts, silks, and anything hopleless feminine that makes me look unprofessional. To realize that my time is finite, but the fact thrills more than it chills. To smile more to strangers on the T and at Trader Joe's because life is too short to be bitter. To understand that some one is not evil even though he or she lies and hurts others - sometimes we can't help it, and we are but rough drafts of ourselves full of mistakes and cliches. To sit on the floor and use the acrylics and the sketch book I got three years ago. To learn to be angry for once and ask for what I deserve. To do something new everyday. To dance more even if the beat is aweful and the club ain't happening. To ask for forgiveness - two people comes to mind. When I get into the hospital, don't hurt of kill anyone. Now for things that I wish I have control over: let there be fewer broken hearts, fewer hurt feelings, and no one wakes up in middle of the night wondering how can he (she) do this?. More bear hugs and massages and cheesy post-it note messages and all the other good things that people give to each other. Let everyone in my life find that someone who's makes him smile every time he thinks of her; let everyone, after a long, cold, hard day, have someone to go home to.