Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Last week I had something called an electrocardiogram. It wasn't too bad. First of all, a nice young lady smeared me with lube and probed me. That alone would have made it a good day. Then I got to see live video of my heart beating. Now that was really something.

It took a while, as she had to get pictures of the old pump from several angles, showing all the valves and chambers, and seeing how the blood moved. It was fun to see. But the one shot that really got my attention was a good look at one of those valves.

It's not a big deal. You've surely seen something like it on TV or in a biology class. Just a little flap of flesh, flicking up and down, opening and closing a passage, moving blood out of one space and into another. Flick, flick, flick, this tiny little flap of flesh. Over and over, right on schedule, unchanging, on and on.

Until it doesn't. That's what I kept thinking about, watching that little flap of flesh. It's one of those little things in our bodies that we are never really aware of, those small working parts that flick a tiny fraction of an inch, or release a certain chemical just when it's needed, or do a thousand little things that they do day after day. Until they don't. Because we are delicate things. We imagine ourselves to be strong or tough or even big, but we are not. We are made up of little, bitty, breakable things, only as strong as the weakest bit, and vulnerable in ways we dare not imagine.

I'm not sure what to think of this. On the one hand it did drive home the idea that I ought to take care of myself. There's no point adding any burdens to those little bits, no use throwing off the delicate chemical balance that a lot of those aging components need to keep working. On the other hand, I know that at any moment, no matter what I do or don't do, that little bit of flesh, flicking away moment by moment, could just stop flicking. Then all this stuff, the good, bad, mad, and miserable, would just stop.

And I wonder, what am I doing with the heartbeats that I do have? I don't have time to ask what I have done with my past heartbeats. It's the heartbeats of today that I must tend to. Am I enjoying the little moments that life offers, or am I letting comparatively insignificant things darken those moments between the beats? When musician Warren Zevon was near the end of his life, he was asked what he had learned. “Enjoy every sandwich,” was his advice. Enjoy every one of those little moments life gives you. They are, after all, finite.

Ideally, life should be spent following bliss, pursuing dreams, and finding joy in the moment. But we don't live in an ideal world. There is fear, pain, tragedy, and challenge. Sometimes in pushing against these and overcoming them we find our greatest satisfaction, but they are always there, our lifelong burdens. I'd just hate to hit that last flick of life and realize that I've been dwelling on pain rather than living in joy. I think I'd rather go out chasing rainbows than hiding from storm-clouds.

Meanwhile, one fluttering little bit of me keeps on moving, to and fro, giving me moments.

No comments: