Thursday, December 29, 2016

What My Heart Knows

My heart seems to know a good many things that my head does not. My heart knows that when a ninety-three-year-old woman announces to a crowd waiting to be seated for breakfast that it is her birthday, you touch her on the shoulder and wish her a happy birthday, and you do it in a strong and enthusiastic voice. After all her hearing is not what it used to be. Your head might observe that your teenagers are cringing, embarrassed, in the corner, but what does your heart care?

Your heart and mine know that each death of a musician or actor in 2016 hurts because another piece of your childhood is crumbling underneath you, leaving you standing on a precipice that feels both unsafe and unsound. Your head acknowledges that you do not know the first thing about these people who have died, and what you do feel about them now (just as you did before) is mere projection, but what does your heart care?

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When my grandmothers were very old, both expounded on the same theme: it is not much fun, life, without your peers, peers who never needed an explanation of the particulars that made you you because they lived many of the same particulars. I got it, even then, in my twenties, young still.

Yesterday one of my sons tried to convince me that writing thank-you notes is obsolete. (He had already written them, as requested. In this, then, he was not trying to weasel out of an onerous task.) He argued that writing thank-you notes is a chore invented by etiquette experts like Emily Post. He used the internet to support his claim.

(Yes, my children are clever in ways I am not, and yes, they do not share my particulars.)

My head knows that thank-you notes may be outdated, but my heart insists that having my children write them continues to teach them how to express, or even how to feel, gratitude. Gratitude for one thing has a way of turning into gratitude for everything.

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My head knows that you cannot will yourself to die, but my heart knows that yesterday Debbie Reynolds did will herself to die just so that she could be with her daughter, Carrie Fisher, once again.

My heart knows it because one of my grandmothers did the very same thing. Lying in a hospital bed while recovering from a ruptured appendix, and only two days from being released, my grandmother said her goodbyes to us all. "This makes no sense," we puzzled. But I had heard her when in recent months she'd talked about life not being fun anymore, and I wondered.

"I am sorry that I won't ever know Kate," she told me in a fierce voice that demanded silence in response. Kate was the name of my future daughter, a name I'd chosen years before. Kate didn't end up being Kate. She ended up a he, and his name would be Jack. But my grandmother's message wasn't dimmed by the inaccuracy of its specifics. It was as pointed, as clear, as could be.

She died of a stroke the next day. My head did not understand how someone pronounced well enough to go home in twenty-four hours could die.

But my heart? It wasn't at all surprised.

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Back to the teens I mortified by wishing a stranger a happy birthday, to the teen who believes thank-you notes to be obsolete, but really to all the teens, because mine are no different from anyone else's:

Try thinking with your heart. You will find it rewarding in ways you cannot yet imagine. Practice a little each day, and by the time you are my age, most of the best thinking you do will not be with those quite capable heads of yours.


6 comments:

Sonya said...

This is lovely.

Angie McCullagh said...

I'm sorry about the loss of your grandmother. Lovely writing, as usual.

Christine said...

Your heart is so wise, methinks. And thank you cards are not obsolete. Ask my kids--I make them write them as well.

Anonymous said...

Love this.

De said...

Embarrassing my kids is often the most fun I have in a given day.

Kyla said...

I love this. Hearts are wise and we are all better for using them.