Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Less than three

Valentine’s Day is coming up, as is Chinese New Year, Ash Wednesday, and President’s Day, and it’s hard to decide which of these events evokes the most indifference from me.  I’m not even sure indifference can be measured by gradations, or if it’s one of those things, like uniqueness, that make people sneer, “Uh, you either are or you aren’t, like being pregnant or dead.” Regardless, Valentine’s Day does not make me feel bitter, the way some folks might suppose. It doesn’t make me feel like much of anything other than shrugging. With all those shrug-worthy celebrations coming up, I’d best be careful I don’t strain my shoulder muscles.

That said, and speaking of strained muscles, something Valentine-relevant did happen to me the other day. I went in for surgery—no, not heart surgery, just a minor procedure that required a local anesthetic, but right before the doctor proceeded, she gave me a warning: “This is going to make your heart beat very hard and very fast for about four minutes.”
I very nearly said “pshaw.” I’m a distance runner, see? I have routinely put my heart through very hard, very fast hell for over four hours. Give it to me straight, Doc. I can take it.

Oh. Oh dear. Um, yikes.
I had the vivid sensation of my heart clenched fist-tight pummeling my chest like an inside-out punching bag, hard, crazy hard, battering-ram-to-the-castle-door hard. I imagined it swinging a hard left hook and cracking all my ribs, then taking an uppercut into my face and cracking all my teeth. I didn’t dare look because I knew I’d see it, see the clear outline of all four violently pulsing chambers as it pounded my sternum. It didn’t hurt; it terrified.

Four minutes later, I nodded and smiled when the nurse asked me how I was doing, tres blasé like I’d just gone all out at a 5K race but didn’t want to show the youngsters I beat just how much the effort had taken out of me. Once the procedure was finished, the nurse told me to rest a bit before I got up to drive home. She gave me apple juice, for what reason I’m not sure, but it was tasty, anyway. Then she watched me stand and get dressed to make sure I wasn’t wobbly. In the right context, having someone watch you get dressed can be far more anxiety-provoking than having them watch you undress. Even on a day when I haven’t been hit with a drug that puts my cardiac muscles through the spin cycle, there’s a chance I might fall over putting on my pants. Luckily that didn’t happen. I got free juice and I didn’t embarrass myself. Win-win.

I was so glad to be done with that ordeal that I very nearly sprinted out of there, except I figured maybe I’d give the ol’ ticker a break and saunter to the car instead. Of course two days later I was running again. The doctor had suggested I wait ten days before running, but I guess she didn’t realize it was officially “Divide by five” day, a celebration I do observe. I have to observe it; I created it.
I tell you this anecdote in relation to Valentine’s Day obviously because it concerns the heart, the most symbolic organ we possess. Oh, lordy, how we do love to go on about its metaphoric qualities. This makes a certain amount of sense—after all, in highly emotional situations (such as, oh, say, beating a lot of younger runners in a 5K race), we do become very aware of our hearts. What I just described to you, however, was not a highly emotional situation at all, merely a somewhat awkward one. Yet I still found myself thinking afterward: ah ha, maybe the heart itself doesn’t break; maybe it breaks you. Maybe the things you yearn for, the hopes you clutch, the desire that drives you forward even as it drives you mad—maybe these are what makes your heart burst from your chest like the alien in the movie, leaving behind a trail of bloody, battered dreams like slimy entrails. It does kinda feel like that sometimes, you know?

Yes, I know. And that knowledge has become very tiresome to me lately.
While Valentine’s Day does not make me bitter—I’m not bitter when I don’t receive gifts for Hanukkah, after all—I will admit to a certain dislike and distrust of the way popular culture so relentlessly pushes emotions over intellect, feeling over thinking. Oh how we love movies where repressed people go abroad and discover the world of the senses! How we cheer when stuffy intellectuals, the ones who have been trying to hold back our free-thinking and free-feeling protagonist, get their pinched-mouthed comeuppance! And how we adore saying things like Your heart is what makes you truly alive (ooh, metaphor!). Hate to break it to you, but there are other things that make you truly alive besides just feeling. Thinking, for instance. Don’t believe me? Try it sometime. Running, too, makes you feel truly alive, whether you’re being chased or doing it for (yes, it’s possible) fun. Hell, even apple juice can make you feel truly alive—you wouldn’t be able to drink it if you were dead, after all; you’d either drink nothing ever again or else brain soup if all that living dead stuff comes true.

Thing is, you can stop thinking. Plenty of people do, it seems. You can stop running. You won’t want to but you can. You can certainly avoid apple juice for the rest of your life with ridiculous ease. But you—and by you I mean I—somehow cannot seem to stop feeling these heart-clobbering-ribs-cracking-bursting-out-dragging-viscera-and-gore emotions. Any attempt at psychical anesthesia applied in hopes of numbing the pain only manages to make things worse when it all happens again. I feel, I want, I desire. Ba-boom, ba-boom, ba-BOOM. 
So I’ve somehow managed to grind another heart-related metaphor into a thoroughly pulpy mess here.  Ah well. If you do celebrate Valentine’s Day, don’t let any of this bring you down. Lacy pink paper hearts distributed on the 14th are not likely to do much worse than give you a paper cut. Your internal organs will be safe, unless you eat too much of that cut-rate crap-quality candy folks are always giving out. Those sweets will make you believe you’d be better off feeling bitter. But please, don’t be bitter. Bitterness is such a puny, scrunched-up emotion; your heart will be insulted if forced to feel it. If it isn’t going to rip you to pieces, why bother?


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