I sit in my class and listen to the professor talk about the heart. Not in a romantic sort of way, but as an organ; as a pump. His words are flat and technical as they pass by me but I try to grab them, I try to hold on to them as they drift up, over my head.
“About every 60 seconds, your entire blood supply will pass through your heart,” the instructor says, turning toward the white board. I can tell he has repeated this story too many times. There is no inflection in his tone, no excitement in his voice as he says, “Blood moves quickly from the right atrium through the tricuspid valve and into the right ventricle.” I watch his finger point to the rough drawing on the white board. He traces the pathway through the strange looking organ as he speaks. “From the right ventricle, blood is pumped through the pulmonary artery into the lungs where it receives oxygen and returns through the pulmonary vein into the left side of the heart.”
I scribble my notes and try to understand the words but the whole time, I am picturing this process happening inside of me. Placing my hand on my chest, I can feel the slight vibration. I know that if I listened through the stethoscope, I would hear the ‘lub-dub’ sound and rush of blood into and out of my own heart.
And this makes me feel vulnerable. I am suddenly fragile. There are so many delicate and intricate processes happening in my body right now that I am overwhelmed. I let the scientific words line up inside my ears and I wonder if I really want to know any more. Would it be better to just live in my innocence or consider the facts of how life really works?
Unfortunately it’s not possible to go back. Now that I know, I can’t un-know. Even as I sit here writing this, my brain is considering what I will say. Yes, it is sending nerve signals through my spinal cord to my hands, the one that holds this page and the one that wriggles this pen. Signals are even reaching to my toes that stretch and move. They also wriggle but for no reason other than I just realized they were down there, on the ground beneath me.
My chest moves air in and out. My eyes blink and follow the movement of this pen just as a cat would do as it watches a string. And my blood, all five liters of it are rushing around through my arteries, delivering oxygen and collecting the carbon dioxide. I am a factory of unending cycles… Gases exchanging, kidney filtering, stomach digesting and my heart, non-stop pumping. All of these processes equal me. I am a functioning system and yet so much more. I am not here merely to eat and to poop but to learn and experience and grow. I am not a leach or a great destructive force.
No, I am a possibility. I am a potential. I am full of memories and feelings and motivation to be so much more than I currently am. But why is this all so fragile? And why doesn’t this marvelous body last longer? I mean, at some point the cells die. The brain eventually short circuits and we expire like a carton of milk gone bad. I just want to know, as I watch my teacher point at the pictures of lungs, if there is more to us than just skin and bones and blood.
In all of my lectures, in each of these classes, I have not yet studied the soul. No cellular organism holds the atoms that form what we call a soul. There is no place in the heart that glows white under an x-ray where the human spirit resides. I want to know if there is some forever piece of us that will go on after our brain stops functioning and our heart tips over in our chest.
I don’t want to worry and I don’t want to doubt.
I want to know the truth. I want to put my stethoscope against my chest, turn down the noise and listen very quietly. Along with the beat of my heart and the rush of my blood, I want to hear more. I want evidence that I matter. I want something more than a pumping organ to feel hope, to feel love. I want more than mere fairy tales. I want hard evidence.
And because I know they won’t teach it in this class, I must keep searching. I must continue learning about the body and the mind and discover for myself the soul that I know must reside inside me.
Then, once I know the truth, I will hold on to it. It’s simple really. If I can find it and make it real to me, I will know the truth and never will I un-know it.
Brandon Paul owns notebooks. Lots of them. In every size. And in these notebooks, he writes. In 2014 he used these notebooks to write every day of his 38th year; in 2015 you’ll get to read this book. Stay tuned.