We saw Bonnie Raitt in concert a few weeks ago. She’s a truly amazing musician. I’d seen her once before, many years ago, in a double bill with Jimmy Buffett. She deferred to his raging fame at the time. But truly, she’s always been a great talent on her own.
I still adore an early album she recorded titled Green Light. There are many beautiful and fun songs on that album. One is titled Keep This Heart In Mind. She writes of loves found and lost so well. But think about that song title on its own. Heart… and mind. They represent the two things we all depend upon for motivation in life.
During periods of peak fitness, I have touched a finger to my neck and counted heartbeats. At one point in life my resting pulse dipped below 40 beats per minute. Lying there still with such a slow heartbeat is a strange sensation. It takes its time because it is pumping enough blood to do the job of supplying oxygen to your body. That’s fitness.
It’s an intimate thing as well to place your ear to the chest of another human being to listen to their heartbeat. It is the pulse of life itself. That is why the heart is considered the symbol of things such as love, virtue, and cherished beliefs.
In times of stress, we speak of having a troubled heart. Pile on the stress and a heart can start to skip beats, behave erratically. The pulse shifts in response to chemicals within the body that affect those electrical impulses. In a book titled “Match to the Heart,” writer Gretel Ehrlich documents the difficulties of living with a heart disturbed after she was struck by lightning while tending sheep in the mountains. There is a medicine used to restart the heart when it forgets its duties thanks to electrical interruptions. Think about that: living within death every minute of your life.
Of course, that’s a massive allegory. Because that is how we all live. Life is precious. Yet we take these heartbeats for granted because we’re so busy training and living and creating stress in our lives that makes us feel useful.
At sixty beats per minute, our hearts beat 86,400 times each day. That’s 2,592,000 beats per month. 31,104,000 beats per year. 2,177,280,000 times in seventy years of life. And we take our hearts for granted.
And that’s if we simply live without exercising. Most of us who run and ride and swim raise our heartbeats daily. And it responds. 150 bpm? No problem. Get up around 200? Things get interesting.
Some people do worse things to their hearts, smoking or drinking or abusing their bodies in ways that destroy or damage heart tissue. I once sat in a surgery lounge while my father had bypass surgery. Another woman sat there waiting for her husband’s surgery to be completed. It took five hours and when the surgeon emerged she berated him for the time she had to wait. He stood there mutely, the picture of self-control. Later, in the recovery room, I heard that patient ask when it was possible to have a cigarette.
Don Henley is another brilliant songwriter that has mentioned the heart in significant ways. His song Forgiveness may well be some of the most brilliant lyrics ever written.
These times are so uncertain
There’s a yearning undefined and people filled with rage
We all need a little tenderness
How can love survive in such a graceless age?
And the trust and self-assurance that lead to happiness
Are the very things we kill, I guess
Pride and competition cannot fill these empty arms
And the world they put between us – you know it doesn’t keep us warm…
Perhaps you can relate to those lyrics a bit, especially in these times when political insanity is running amok. Just yesterday a man accosted me through Facebook, a man that I had Unfollowed simply to avoid temptation to engage with him. Yet he went on the offensive posting to my timeline. I tried to reason with him. Get him to understand the notion of context when discussing politics. He would have none of it. He wanted to dominate the discussion, to win the argument. And here’s the scary part. He’s a family counselor. I tried to avoid him. Disengaged. He would have none of it.
It’s a strange world out there. Always has been. Always will be. What we’re seeing is the shallow urgency of ideology shoved to the front of public dialogue. People proceed on the shallowest of beliefs and will fight to the death over them. Literally. It’s not enough to wear their heart on their sleeves. They want to sling blood. Shed it if they can. They travel in league with racists and deny their association. They harm with words and claim it has no effect.
But there is still that issue of our own heartbeats to consider, and how to protect our souls as well. There is only one answer, and I’ll let Don Henley speak to that.
I will live happily ever after and my heart is so shattered
But I know it’s about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if, even if you don’t love me
I’ve been tryin’ to get down to the heart of the matter
Because the flesh gets weak and the ashes will scatter
So I’m thinkin’ about forgiveness, forgiveness
Even if you don’t love me anymore
Even if you don’t love me anymore
The world is a divisive place. But the only thing that has worked for me in healing from my own heartfelt pain is forgiveness. I’ve asked it from others. I’ve given it in my own quiet heart space, and been released from angst and sorrow, anger and passion.
A wise counselor once observed, “You seem to be good at forgiving others, but how are you at forgiving yourself?” That means turning attention to your own heart. Listening to the heartbeat of your life. Accepting that despite it all, mistakes and regrets, the heart continues on with its work.
Keep this heart in mind.