2023, and a new year ahead. I dispensed with those New Year’s resolutions years ago—whatever specific goals I intended often fizzled out by March. Instead, thanks to the suggestion of my friend Sue several years ago, I began a process of finding one word to serve as my guiding intention for each new year. To keep myself reminded of what the chosen word suggests in the actions I take, I print out the word and place it in a small three-inch frame that sits on my desk, a daily reminder to inspire the actions I take.
This past year, I’d chosen “connect,” and discovered that Sue had also chosen a similar word. After the isolation of the COVID pandemic, re-connecting with friends and family in meaningful ways was important, and seeing the word each day as I sat down to write was an important reminder to put the desire to connect in action.
Yet I faltered a bit connecting with others during the spring and summer of 2022 when I experienced some worrying signs of worsening heart failure. Life was dominated by visits to the ICD and cardiac clinics, tests and blood work until late May, when a “transesophageal “ echocardiogram was performed and a mitral clip procedure was suggested for my damaged heart and leaking mitral valve. I was referred for evaluation by a team of cardiac specialists. I spent the month of June waiting for a decision, and my emotions ranged from hope to despair when I was turned down. In late July, I was referred to another cardiologist at a different hospital, one who was described by my own cardiologist as “working a bit of magic on difficult cases.” Two weeks later, I returned home after a successful insertion of two mitral clips in my heart.
…It’s not easy to think about the heart unless trouble arises.
—John Stone, MD
It’s little wonder, perhaps, that when I began my annual “search” for a defining word for 2023, I chose “heart.” To be honest, I think “heart” chose me, relentlessly bubbling up in my notebook day after day, demanding exploration of all its meanings. But it wasn’t the physical heart I was exploring, rather, it was the heart that the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz yearned for so deeply, confusing a physical heart with the metaphorical one. As Dr. Sandeep Jauhar described in his book, Heart, A History (2018), our “second” or metaphorical heart has long been considered as the locus of emotions across many cultures and many years. Science has corrected those misassumptions, but those earlier views continue to influence how we talk about our hearts today.
Looking back on this past year, I realized that the isolation of COVID and the progressive nature of living with heart failure had taken its toll on me. I had become not only more isolated, but also less adventuresome. But after the mitral clip procedure and the addition of new medications, I began to experience renewed energy and desire to re-engage with life, my passions and pursuits. I have more gratitude for my cardiologists and the medical team than I can adequately express. It’s that experience that has informed how I want to live my life in the year ahead: with heart. It’s no wonder I found myself singing the lyrics from the 1955 Tony award winning musical, Damn Yankees:
You’ve gotta’ have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin’ you’ll never win
That’s when the grin should start
You’ve gotta’ have hope
Mustn’t sit around and mope…
(Lyrics by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross)
The writer Judith Campbell once reminded us, “When the heart speaks, take good notes.” To be certain I do, I’m printing out the word “heart,” framing it and placing it on my desk, where each day, it can remind me to take actions inspired by what it means to live with heart.
How can I express it best? I often think of a favorite poem by e.e.cummings, simply titled “53,” one that sums up so much of what living with heart includes:
may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living
whatever they sing is better than to know
and if men should not hear them men are old…
(From: 100 Selected Poems, 1954)
A Writing Suggestion for the New Year
Why not try defining your intentions for the coming year in a single word? It is, as I have experienced, a rich and meaningful exercise.
I wish you a new year filled with good health, happiness and heart.