Radiolab is one of my favorite shows on public radio right now. I was listening to one of their podcasted episodes the other day while out hiking and it about stopped me in my tracks.
The episode is called Tell-Tale Hearts. And the Oliver Sachs interview is as good as all of his interviews are. But it was the other story that undid me. The story of a woman whose heart, after she has heart surgery, starts beating so strongly that other people can hear it beating when they are standing in the vicinity.
They put her chest up to a microphone and we heard her heart beat too. And there is something so personal and connecting about hearing or feeling another person’s heart beat. Please listen to the podcast when you have a chance, especially for the way the audience reacted to the sound of her heartbeat.
It got me thinking about heart beats. I love to feel the strong, slow, and steady beat of Justin’s heart, when my head rests against his chest. I am confident that if aliens ever replaced him with a doppelganger, it is the heartbeat that would give away the imposter. It is no coincidence we use the heart as the location of love. i have been connected to the beat of his heart all these many years.
And my children. Listening to their heartbeats in the doctor’s office when I was pregnant, knowing that their life resided in my very body. It’s surely a mystery. I remember lying in the big chair, with my babies resting on my chest, the heavy weight of their little bodies surrendered into sleep. And the pulse of their heartbeats would flit across from their bodies to mine.
My babies are all growed up now, of course.
They still occasionally let me hold them, but they don’t fit on my lap as they used to. And while I miss that connection to their heartbeats, it seems to me that just the presence of their heartbeats under the same roof is a good thing for my soul. They were both out of town this weekend on other adventures, and I missed their beating hearts.
There’s one heartbeat, though, whose absence beats loudly in my life right now. And that is the beat of my birth mother’s heart. Thinking about my connection to the hearts of the three lives that grew in my body, I keenly feel the absence of a connection to the heartbeat that was my soundtrack before I was born.
While I respect her desire to not meet me, I confess I would give just about anything to give her a hug and put my head against her, and feel the beat of the heart that gave me life. And I’d lock the memory of that sound, the feel of it against my ear, and the connection to it, securely away in my mind and play the tape of it when needed.
I’m not going to just show up at her door and give her a hug. I promise. But I am feeling the sadness and the loss of that broken connection.
And I’m sad for her too, as a mother who has lost that connection to her child. Before I placed Eric for adoption, I got to spend 2 days in the hospital with him, feeling his heart beating near mine. My mother probably never even got to hold me when I was born. She certainly wouldn’t have had as much time with me as I had with Eric. I’m grateful for every beat of Eric’s heart that I’ve been near in the past 26 years. Even when he was a little kid, and couldn’t have possibly known who I was, he knew who I was those few times we were in the same place. There was a recognition, from my heart to his, of our connection. I’ve never fully been able to describe how it feels to be in his presence–like the missing puzzle piece is put back in place, if only for a moment.
I have to let my birth mother be sad for her own self (or feel whatever it is she wants to feel). In truth, I can only acknowledge the sadness that accompanies the deafening sound of the silence where that heartbeat used to be in my life, before I was born.
It’s absence isn’t everything. But it is something.
Grateful for the other hearts beating near mine.