“What is that thing that looks like it’s giving a high five?”
“That’s your heart valve.”
“Huh.” Given what I was looking at, I probably should have come up with something better than a simple “Huh.” At the time, though, it’s all I could think of. “It just does that all day everyday?”
“Hopefully,” the doctor said, clearly not as mesmerized by my body as I was. “Now breathe out and hold.”
It’s not everyday that you get an up close look at your heart. But there I was yesterday morning getting an echocardiogram in a basement of a brand new building in the Emory Clinic in the middle of Atlanta, a foot away from one of the most important parts of my body.
An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of your heart. The whole experience was full of intimacy, vulnerability, disconcertion. I was lying there with my shirt off, on my side, arm above my head, looking just like Kate Winslet from that scene in the Titanic. I’ll have to get one of these procedures every twelve weeks for as long as I’m on the trial, so it’s a position I’ll have to get used to.
“Does everything look ok?”
“We’ll have to wait and get the report.”
I knew better than to ask. There’s nothing she could have told me. Yet it’s impossible not to look that closely at your heart and not ask the question.
Staring became too intense, so I turned my head and looked at the ceiling.
The longer I get medical care, the more I become convinced that we aren’t meant to look that closely at the insides of our bodies. Pretty much all scans freak my out, even more now considering my coughing and my shortness of breath. Also the doctor kept telling me to relax which totally freaked me out. “Relax? Why? Tell me what you see??”
The heart. How did it become this towering metaphor. This image this emotion. Of courage. This thing that breaks and sings and becomes overrun with joy. This thing you give to someone you love.
In reality, it’s kind of ugly. Nothing like the construction paper cut outs we made in elementary school. It’s just this… thing in the middle of our chest that pumps and pumps and pumps all day long. How has this workhorse turned people into poets? How has this machine made grown men weep?
Maybe because it’s so ugly. Maybe because it does nothing but pump blood all day. Showing up through rain and shine, through think and thin, through sickness and health. No matter what you are doing- be it praying or working or lying or cheating or stealing, this heart just keeps beating. No stopping. No judgement. It might speed up or slow down a little, but it’s going to keep doing its job over and over again and when it stops, so do we.
Is there a better metaphor for love than that?