In the last few weeks my heart has taken to skipping beats again. The lub dub lub dub that pounds faithfully hour after hour now has a new rhythm. Like a jump start, a thick thud lands in my chest, sometimes making me cough like someone has thumped their first against my sternum.
I had tests done a couple years ago when this first started happening. Blood work, EKG’s and doctors visits, a specialist and an echocardiogram. They pressed the ultrasound against my chest and watched this fist sized muscle fill and contract and pump necessary blood through my veins while the tiny spikes hopped and dipped with one notable skip where the needle would skitter dramatically every few beats.
And in the end the cardiologist said, it is psychosomatic, resulting from anxiety and stress. We see strips like this from people suffering PTSD, he told me calmly after he had looked at my chart and saw the year of sickness and surgeries and stress. I made another appointment with my psychiatrist.
My mind was worn out, my body was trying to tell me so, in its own way, tapping out its solemn morse code to get my attention.
I slowed down. I logged off. I sat on the porch and watched the sunset in the evenings. I read poetry and ate peaches and still my heart beat recklessly inside me.
I waited for my mind to tell my body I was at peace in my bones. I lost words because my new anxiety meds hushed the noise to a whisper, delicate and subtle. My heartbeat followed obediently becoming steady and faithful again, knocking out its reliable pulse in place of my syllables. My mind calmed and with it, the urgency of all the unspoken things.
As much as I assumed it was some corrupted muscle that was causing my distress, it was instead some malady of temperament or quirk of the mind.
How do you quiet your own heart? How do you make it obey? Is it desperately wicked and ready to betray us at a moment’s notice? Is it our wellspring, from which everything flows? Is it that harvested stone, turned to pulpy and vulnerable flesh at Jesus’ touch? Who indeed can know it?
In the midst of all the anxiety flooding my system, I often fail to make sense of the world and the only assurance I have are the words I’ve written on my heart. The reminders of God’s goodness, the chapter and verse of His word, the stories of His faithfulness.
Writing has been my Rosetta Stone, the language to translate my heart back to me. For a writer to not be writing is inviting chaos to dwell in the mind. Words bottled up and banging against their soul like a heart gone feral.
I think of the landscape of the human heart. The atlas of our worlds and the stories we have to tell. The stories we have been told. Writing has been a lifeline drawing me back to the heart of God. They are the reminders both when the world is loud and violent and when it is hushed and silent. God speaks into it all but it’s so easy to go on unhearing.
When my heart went quiet and steady within me, I forgot to pay attention to its beat. It only grabbed my attention when it was abnormal. We don’t pay any mind to the ordinary things that carry on without thought or notice. They simply are, our hearts just beat, our lungs just breath, our life just is.
It’s only when our lives are interrupted that we begin to take notice. I think this is true of most things but writing is the thwack against my chest that makes me look closer, listen more sincerely, ponder what had always seemed normal and commonplace. It is the place where God continually interrupts me, like that one beat that won’t line up and calls for examination.
Lately, I’ve wondered about the value of some discomfort, some pebble in my shoe that rubs and blisters and make me acknowledge each step. How far I have to go, how far I’ve come. Some irritant that demands I pull off my shoes and stand tender footed in a world so raw you can’t help but feel it press in. Take notice of it all. To let loose and shake out all those things clambering for attention and let yourself hear the sound of your own heartbeat while you wiggle your toes. To let yourself feel what you have tried so hard to numb. To ignore, to push past with a can-do attitude and some inspirational pep talks. To forage ahead in the world without ever pausing to feel the breath of God in our still and silent soul.
Over the years, I have learned to live the interruptions. Sickness, weakness, disappointment, fragility of mind, loss. These have been my company for many years. I am learning to see them not so much as a derailment of my best intentions but as a part of life that reminds me to come empty with my heart wild inside me and trust I will be found.
Let our hearts beat unrestrained and listen to the new rhythm as not so much a cadence to set time to as we move through our days, but as a song to rebirth. An invitation to see again what we never noticed the first time.