I have much more free time now that I am not going out to run as many errands, and not reading news stories or watching television as much as I did pre-pandemic. I find that the less exposure to corona virus reporting and speculation seems to have improved my mental well-being dramatically. The anxiety rapidly disappears when I am no longer exposed to stories that may have no basis in fact and no credibility. (I am waiting for one of TV’s commentators to break the news that the virus is able to penetrate walls, sort of like Casper, the Friendly Ghost.)
You might wonder how I have spent this unexpected free time. I’ve done a bit of on-line shopping, searching for things I can’t easily find in grocery stores. I have also helping crafting entrepreneurs by purchasing homemade masks on Etsy. I was well known during my career for allegedly wearing a different outfit every day (not true!). But I am continuing the fashion icon myth by having a variety of colorful masks, my newest accessory.
I have been writing quite a bit more. I have continued to write weekly blog posts, as well as some devotionals for my church. Writing has always been one of my favorite pastimes, so if I have to spend time in self-isolation, why not use it to hone my writing skills. Who knows, maybe I’ll start writing the great American novel?
Reading is also something I love to do. Unfortunately, reading for enjoyment was one of the victims of my career for many years. I had to read many dry, boring government documents during the workday. As a result, my eyes were too bleary and my brain was too fried to get into the intricacies of a well-written plot once I came home. I would just skim the newspaper for headlines and news that might enrich my career goals, but that habit was less than relaxing and intriguing.
Now that I can read for fun once more, I find myself reading a lot of fiction, especially mystery novels. The mystery I am currently reading gave me an idea for a blog post that is a bit heart related. Let’s just say I am melding three constants of my life – reading, writing and heart research – into what I hope is an interesting, albeit unconventional, blog post.
By way of background (one of my favorite lawyer phrases), the mystery is about a female law professor who teaches a law school class called The History of Justice. Being a history major, I thought this was an inspired course. In the first chapter of the novel, her course deviated from the beaten path of law school when she asked some students to act out a scene from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. The purpose of this exercise was to illustrate the fact that the law sometimes is not just.
In addition to being a history major, I took many English courses in college. One of my favorite courses was a Shakespeare course, The reason I loved the course was because the professor had his students argue their viewpoints regarding what message Shakespeare was providing us through his various plays and sonnets. Needless to say, I would have loved a course like the mystery author’s The History of Justice course. It certainly beat the regular and mundane array of torts, contract, real estate and tax law courses I was required to take.
Even though the author’s course used the Socratic method (which I came to despise), I would have been at ease, even excited, to argue a theory about a Shakespeare play. It beat reciting and arguing precedent case law. (For those of you who are not familiar with the Socratic method, Wikipedia defines it as a form of cooperative argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions. With all due respect to Wikipedia, in my humble opinion, the Socratic method is an academically sanctioned form of hazing.)
It dawned on me – why stop at how Shakespeare interpreted the law and justice? Everyone knows some quotes from Shakespeare (whether they realize it or not). I thought an appealing topic might be to explore what Shakespeare said about the heart in his plays, sonnets and just in life. I found a website called Azquotes.com and it provides quotes from a variety of authors on a variety of topics. So, without further ado (or as Shakespeare would say, with Much Ado About Nothing), here are some of the quotes about the heart that spoke to me.
The first quote is from the play Love’s Labour’s Lost: “A light heart lives long.” This is an ingenious quote, and it tells me that Shakespeare must have dabbled a bit in the field of cardiology. Because what he is pointing out is that a heart afflicted with cardiomyopathy will be enlarged, less able to pump blood effectively, and likely to weaken and fail. Since an enlarged heart must be heavier and not likely to live as long, it stands to reason that a light heart lives long!
The second quote is from The Merchant of Venice: “The devil can cite scripture for his purpose. An evil soul producing holy witness is like a villain with a smiling cheek, a goodly apple rotten at the heart. O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath.” This to me means that one’s faith is dependent on the pureness of one’s heart. Sometimes we are misled by evildoers who talk a good game, even referring to the Bible or other faith resources. In my experience, it is important to evaluate more than what the person is saying. You must also observe actions and ethical demeanor and if those undermine the spoken word, then you have come upon an evildoer. To loosely paraphrase Shakespeare, if something is rotten in Denmark, run, run like the wind.
The next quote is from Love’s Labours Lost: “A heavy heart bears not a nimble tongue.” Again, this shows Shakespeare’s bias for medical matters of the heart. Once again, an enlarged heart is a heavy heart and one that probably suffers from cardiomyopathy. Symptoms of cardiomyopathy include shortness of breath, dizziness and fainting. It is hard to have a nimble tongue when you are too winded to speak, and are losing consciousness. You should not expect eloquent rhetoric from a victim of cardiomyopathy.
Then there are two Shakespeare quotes that do not have cited references. Accordingly, I cannot prove that these words were said by Shakespeare – but I also can’t prove that they were not. So, let’s just assume they were. Here is the first: “A good heart is worth gold.” Having had a crappy heart for the last 7 years, I totally concur with this point. To be able to breathe freely as I walk up inclines, to be able to run again, to lose the fatigue that accompanies many heart ailments, to not worry that your heart rhythm is going to lose it’s cadence – all of these things are priceless.
But I also think there is another lesson to be taken from this quote. While I do believe that Shakespeare was an amateur heart doctor, he also speaks of the heart in metaphorical terms. What I mean is that Shakespeare was emphasizing that it is the mercy and charity of the heart that makes it precious. To give freely and to forgive freely is a sign not only of a good heart but of a blessed heart.
The second quote without a cited reference is: “Do not judge a man’s conscience by his face because he may have a bad heart.” On the face of it (pun intended) this means you cannot judge a book by its cover, and so assuming a person with good looks has a good heart is a flawed assumption. But I also think it gets to the heart (again pun intended) of a complaint that many of us with chronic illnesses share.
People look at us and we look “normal” or “good”. However, the reality is that chronic and severe heath issues may be going on inside the person’s body. Whether you have a really weak and damaged heart, or serious digestive issues that are draining your energy reserves, or cancer that is attacking your body –
these conditions greatly impact your health. But it may take quite a while before they impact your outward appearance. That doesn’t make them any less debilitating. Applaud us chronic illness patients for our ability to get out and participate in life despite the toll on our bodies and mental well-being.
There are many more Shakespeare quotes that reference the word heart. But I think I will close with this one last quote from Much Ado About Nothing: “He hath a heart as sound as a bell, and his tongue is the clapper; for what his heart thinks his tongue speaks.” The free dictionary gives several definitions for the idiom sound as a bell: in perfect condition or health; undamaged; very healthy; or in good condition.
Alas, my heart does not meet any of those definitions. My heart is probably more like a cracked Liberty Bell. The soundness of my heart, just like that of the Liberty Bell, is impacted by the damage that was inflicted upon it. But just as the Liberty Bell still inspires pride that flourishes throughout this nation, my damaged heart inspires a passionate advocacy in my writings and conversations.
In that regard, my heart, weak as it is, enables me to convey valuable messages. Shakespeare, through his plays and his sonnets and his eloquence conveyed very sound and accurate portraits of the human character. Taking a cue from Shakespeare, in the last seven years, I have become more articulate in my feelings about my heart condition, and I try to speak freely and genuinely about chronic illness to those who want to learn and want to help. So, I encourage each of you to listen to your inner Shakespeare and become articulate about those matters that are important to you.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. She spent the next 7 years learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth. Then in October 2020, she received a heart transplant. This blog is about her journey of the heart.