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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alison - that was absolutely beautiful. I just had my heart broken and am trying helplessly to recover from the hurts and confusion of heartbreak and life's sardonic joke after joke ... after joke.

But your post lifted my spirits. Perhaps after all those tears I've shed, it was merely enough to know that just maybe one other person in this world understands what its like to have yet another piece of my heart torn away and to have to face the ever-burning question of what DO I do with these bittersweet memories and gaping wounds.

Thank you.

9:07 PM  
Anonymous Stalkerboy said...


12:11 AM  
Blogger raven said...

This is beautiful. Thank you.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Maddy said...

Great writing and flow of language!

5:27 PM  

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