“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
― Henry David Thoreau
When we first moved to the valley, watching the lights from the summit of our new home was unsettling to me. Mesmerized by the orange urban glow, I was left with an uneasiness watching the shimmer of the lights although I couldn’t place why. When anyone visits for the first time, they nearly always go to the windows and comment on the view- it is truly stunning. But the lights that I had expected to be still, were in fact, moving–shimmering like steam coming off hot pavement. I would watch for a while, pondering all the lives represented by each of the lights, but the unrest of what I thought should be still left me with a strange anxiety I couldn’t put my finger on. Now I recognize it as the same anxious flutter, the quiver of my heart, alive with uncertainty and motion and the flow of life through our chambers; the ones we live within and without, and the ones that comprise the four pockets of the human heart.
I have vivid memories of a plastic stethoscope we had when I was a child. From the looks of it, you would never have believed you could actually hear a heartbeat through it– but you could! and I would press the grey foam disc of the diaphragm against my chest and listen for the lub-dub rhythm that came through the tubes of bright yellow and red plastic right into my ears. It always felt like some kind of lullaby to me.
And then I grew up and acquired a real stethoscope and learned how to use it. As a nursing intern at hospice I learned how to use it to listen for the absence of a heartbeat. I listened to hearts with skips and fits and starts. I listened to babies in the NICU with cardiac anomalies. I studied their EKG strips, I listened for the subtle whispers of valves that didn’t close, of holes in tiny imperfect hearts.
I heard my own children’s hearts on ultrasound and then again as newborns. Suddenly I understood in ways that had escaped me before—how mortal man is and how what beats in our chests is what keeps us alive.
But my stethoscope is semi-retired for now, collecting dust on top of my desk . As my kids have gotten older they have become quite fond of grabbing it to listen to their own heartbeats, asking me where to place it on their chest and growing wide-eyed as they tune in to the rhythm of their body.
If I live inside the movement that carries us, the uneasiness melts away. My motion sickness ceases and I understand how stillness only comes when I let the motion carry me. When I rise like visible waves of radiance coming off the atmosphere, it is only then that I understand the quiver; only then do I understand that to fully feel my life, I must live inside the shimmer.