Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Heart to Heart

There is a persistent, dull ache in the center of my chest. I try to ignore it and pretend it doesn’t exist. I am not really sure it is real. I fear that it is a form of hypochondria – or sympathy pain – or fear -- borne of the latest spate of heart problems in those around me from Barbara Bush to Robin Williams to a college classmate whose aorta exploded in church last Sunday as he sat there in front of his wife and young children and died. A fourth friend of mine was recently diagnosed with a heart valve problem as well and must soon undergo open heart surgery to fix it. Fixable, yes. Thank God. But open heart surgery sounds so violent and major and invasive to me. It scares the shit out of me just to think about it. Much better, however, than there being no alternative, of course.

The point I am making, I guess, is that sometimes we are reminded suddenly, forcefully of the fragility of life. And of our own mortality. As we enter middle age, telling ourselves that 50 is the new 30, and we run off to our Pilates classes and yoga sessions and power walk around our neighborhoods and slather on that Oil of Olay nighttime firming cream and eat healthy and drink that glass of red wine because, really, it is good for our hearts, what are we doing? Giving ourselves a false sense of security? Staving off old age? Ignoring and denying the inevitable?

It is not my intent to be negative here. I think it is a good thing if we take care of our health. There is a sign in my chiropractor’s office that says: “If you don’t take care of your body, where are you going to live?” But the fact of the matter is, our bodies are still going to age, no matter what we do. We will get old and die. Or else we are going to get hit by a bus whilst crossing the street; get some terrible, awful disease that is not preventable and for which there is no cure; or in one of a zillion possible ways, be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The end result is all the same.

So, I worry about what we are doing today. I would suggest to myself that being a bit more purposeful might not be a bad thing. Being a bit more grateful. A bit kinder. Having a bit more patience. Being a bit more willing to take small risks. I don’t have to jump out of airplanes or climb Mount Kilimanjaro to take a risk. It might be as simple as saying hi to a passerby, allowing that person with his blinker on to merge in front of me, smiling at the stranger in the grocery aisle.

There is a saying that life is what happens to you when you are busy planning for the future. Or dwelling too much on the past. What is going on today? Right now? This very moment, this IS life. This is it. Of course, we should plan for the future and learn from the past. But today, right now, what exactly is it we are doing and why and how?

Just yesterday on my way to work, as I was listening to a novel on CD, one of the major characters died suddenly, unexpectedly of a massive heart attack. It took my breath away. People all around me, both real and fictional, are suffering from heart problems all at the same time. What does this mean? Or does it mean anything? Heart problems occur every day, all the time; I just happen to be noticing it more right now because I have seen it happen to a string of people I know or know of.

I can dismiss it. This sudden attack of heart problems. Or I can embrace it. And have a heart to heart with myself. And use it to add meaning to my daily life. And hopefully to those around me.