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illustration: katharina berndt
the beat goes on
manila, 4:44. outside, the palm trees are swaying in the night air. she’s lying in this bed that’s way too soft, has kicked the blanket down to the floor and can’t sleep because she’s so nervous about tomorrow.

waiting in the queue for the bus going from the suburbs to the city centre. he went all the way to the back of the bus, passing through the middle section with the chatting women and their prams. before taking a seat in the row in front of her, he smiles at her … and finally she smiles back at him.

vladivostok, 7:44. when the sun sent out its first gloriously red rays after this endless night, her child was finally born and uttered its first scream, which made them both cry… hand in hand.

honolulu, 10:44. finally the teacher calls him up to the blackboard for his presentation. he’s so nervous that he fears his voice will break again or even desert him. like yesterday when his mother went crazy in the city. he sighs.

seattle, 13:44. after 11 weeks in hospital he finally returns home this noon, with a new pacemaker lodged in his body. his wife waits for him on the porch as the paramedics guide him up the stairs. she suddenly begins to shiver.

rio de janeiro, 17:44. the hot sand beneath their bodies and the sun in the sky have made him fall asleep, and for the first time she dares to listen to his heartbeat, putting her ear to his narrow chest.

paris, 22:44. he reaches for her tanned hand on the white tablecloth, says that she will always mean a lot to him, as her first tear drops onto the foie gras, with all these posh people around them.

at any given time and any given place, in every human being they flutter, beat, close or tense up, are in our mouths, fill up with joy or overflow, sink into our boots, get sick or break – our hearts.

this makes about 6.8 billion hearts (incidentally among the first organs to develop during the embryonic stage) pumping about 4.9 litres of blood through our body every minute – without any effort on our part. the oxygen-rich blood is pumped from the right ventricle to the rest of the body, ensuring blood flow through all organs. our biggest pump is our most vital tool to keep our body working.

if a heart gets sick, today’s medical science can often work wonders. it outsmarts tired hearts with eclectic pacemakers, it replaces sick hearts with artificial ones, transplants donor hearts and performs complex open-heart surgery. this is done by cutting open the skin and pulling it aside to leave a gaping hole in the middle of the chest that truly is a matter of life and death. if death occurs, the last heartbeat goes hand in hand with our last breath.

however, as long as our heart beats more or less regularly, we live and breathe. not just because of our hearts, but also within them.

the heart might just be the home of the soul, the place for all things subjective and emotional. and if it isn’t, this place can’t be very far away. after all, the heart seems to be the link to our inside, a constant indicator of our emotional state. that’s why it is used in so many metaphors for different emotions – because everybody can relate to it.

if we feel bad, afraid, awkward, pained or oppressed about a situation, our heart and its surrounding area will feel the same. something tenses up or breaks, our emotions seem to be reflected by our myocardium. rational facts can’t deny this fact, because psychosomatic feelings can’t be pushed away. in situations like this you just have to wait … or try to fix the outer circumstances until your body and soul are back in harmony and the heart loosens up.

only if your heart feels relaxed, secure and genuine, you can listen to its call. it’s not as cheesy as it might sound; you just have to listen for it when you’re totally at ease with yourself. most of the time, this inner call is beautiful, wise and honest. it is driven by something good and well worth listening to if you want to lead a happy life (which doesn’t mean that you should throw all rational thinking into the wind, of course!). many desirable characteristics seem to be rooted in our hearts, ranging from happiness to kindness, empathy and the biggest emotion and challenge of all: love.

for all these emotions, the heart not only serves as the window to our soul, but - as the saying goes – also is in the right place, i.e. in the very place where we are truly human. and if you even raise your heart like suggested in a famous catholic prayer, you might just come close to the divine inside us.

this spiritual aspect might sound as tacky and naïve as the longing for the pure heart of our childhoods. we live in the 21st century, where people long for other dimensions, crave for an impressive car, a big circle of friends and a great life, blatantly act like megalomaniacs, overfish the oceans, erect buildings that touch the skies and juggle unfathomable funds. but without a big heart willing to open up, all of this is futile.

in her essay, marlene kelnreiter shows us that “the heart might just be the home of the soul, the place for all things subjective and emotional” and tells us about the fascination of beating, fluttering and thumping hearts …