When children are over-active, a mother scolds, “Be still, you are giving me a headache.”
When we are angry at someone, we say we are going to give them an earful, or the back of our hand: If they answer back, they are mouthy or give us lip. Vengeful, we want to stick our finger in someone’s eye. Sedated, we are glassy-eyed; determined, steely eyed; romantic, dewy-eyed; out of our minds, wild-eyed. A pretty girl is an eyeful. Someone who is intrusive is nosy; a fancy word or an ill-considered judgement is a mouthful. Taste applies to more than food and to find something distasteful is to say it all.
Asked to do something that offends us, we reply we don’t have the stomach for it. We may make decisions based on a gut feeling. We give someone a shoulder to cry on, a helping hand, a leg up. When we make a mistake, or say something impolite, we put our foot in it. We call a bratty child or a difficult partner, a handful. Stymied, we throw up our hands. We tell people to get off our back, that they are a pain in the neck and, sometimes, a pain in the ass. Encouraging someone to be brave, we suggest he or she keep the chin up or show some spine.
Act without thinking and you lose your head. Fall in love and you do it head over heels. Provide an introduction to someone seeking a job, and we give them a foot or a toe in the door. A dishonorable man is a heel. The genitals are metaphors for manliness and softness. To find refuge we go back to the womb. Used as an adjective, the heart lends definition to a meal or a laugh.
The brain may be the intellectual center of our body but while the brain is still sifting facts, I might simply do what my heart says is right: The poets and songwriters agree, the heart knows.
What we ascribe to the heart has no relation to what the heart is: a well constructed, but not very pretty, utilitarian pump. Not very different from pumps we use in our everyday life. But no other pump is described the way the heart is. The heart feels. In a song that, in its original form, dates back to Marie Antoinette,
“It cries for you, sighs for you, dies for you”.
The heart can be wounded, it aches. It can be heavy with sorrow, sick with worry, leap for joy, and burst with happiness.
It is mobile: Far from diligently pumping away in your chest, it might be anywhere — on your sleeve, in your mouth, in your hand, dropped to the floor, in your stomach. You can give your heart away and, if you are not very, very careful, you might lose it.
The heart has texture: yours might be hard, or soft, tender or so impermeable we cry, “Have you no heart?” It’s ironic that the pump continues to pump in people who are thought of as heartless.
It can be expansive – I will hold you in my heart — or a jail — I will keep you in my heart –or punishing – She locked him out of her heart. The heart they tell us, has its reasons. It makes judgements–
“My heart tells me this is just a fling…..Should I believe my heart or you?”
It is responsive: faced with something unusual it might race or it might stop. It will certainly pound.
When one heart meets another heart, the two can beat as one – perhaps even, in three-quarter time.
And when those two hearts have become entwined, when they learn to beat as one, when they are leaping with joy, bursting with happiness, along comes death.
Death reaches out, and stills but one of the beating hearts. Leaving the other, to pulse alone.
Then “None but the lonely heart can know my sorrow.”
And what the lonely hearts know is this:
“alone and parted from joy and gladness,”
Hearts can, and do, break.
Songs: My heart cried for you, adapted by Carl Sigman and Percy Faith
My Heart Tells Me, Mack Gordon/Harry Warner
None But The Lonely Heart, Tschaikovsky