The bravery that each beat takes is maybe the most wonderful thing about us.
“A disastrous flaw in our design is that the heart always defies the brain.” ― Piper Payne, "White Lies"
My dad was an alcoholic for most of my life and alcoholics aren't especially known for handing out sage advice about life. He did say one smart thing I never forgot, though, and it was this: "Never engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed man."
I think I was about twelve when he dropped that casually into a conversation we were having about the mean things kids at school can sometimes say. I still had some hero worship happening back then and those words took a deep dive straight into my consciousness, where they live to this day.
I've been thinking a lot lately about that phrase and how applicable it is, even in situations you wouldn't think it would be.
I had my heart broken recently — not romantically, but broken all the same. It was completely unexpected, and like most terrible things that happen like lightning out of the blue, it was intense and tragic and it left me reeling.
My brain caught on quick — "here is a loss, now we deal with it." But my heart? Oh, my heart.
See, the heart is the unarmed man here. It doesn't listen to reason. It can't hear logic. Intellect has no place in its chambers. It is a really big, really dumb organ and it's forever falling behind where our brains are headed.
Do you have a friendship that's falling apart? Maybe it's been a gradual letting go. Maybe it's been a stop-drop-and-roll effort as it suddenly went up in flames. Maybe you just stopped liking each other. Your brain already has the bags packed and sitting by the door but your heart is hanging out in the bedroom, mooning over all the memories and dragging its feet every step of the way.
Is your relationship barely hanging on? Maybe you've outgrown each other like an old pair of shoes. Maybe you've reached that point in adulthood where you've learned the painful lesson that sometimes love really isn't all you need. Maybe you married a jerk or maybe you're being a jerk.
Your brain is like, "Let's roll!", road trip ready, map spread out over the dashboard with all the good places circled. But your heart isn't having it. Your heart is making excuses about too much mileage and the ridiculous gas prices and threadbare tires — basically, anything to keep you sitting in the driveway with the engine idling.
What about family? Did you say something you shouldn't have on Facebook? Did your sister share an offensive meme? Has your brother made a habit out of retweeting the most obnoxious garbage he can find? Is your mom still struggling to understand what's appropriate to post about and what's not?
It's a weird time for families. There's a lot of room for error and an equal amount of room for grudges. Your brain recognizes that we're all transitioning to a whole new world and has tickets in hand, eager to get this journey started, willing to let bygones be bygones because no one needs to be alone right now.
Your heart, though. Your heart has no intention of forgiving right now; it stokes the fires of misunderstanding because it feels good to hold on to righteous indignation, doesn't it?
It's always the heart. Our hearts are stubborn beasts beating in our chests. They are valiant and cowardly and funny and horrible and precious and woefully unarmed. They are cowboys and they are crybabies. They're beautiful bastards.
We literally can't live without them, but there are moments when cracking open our sternum and pulling them out with our bare hands seems preferable to the pain they can cause us.
There were actually two words in Old English for this: "heortece," in the sense of a physical pain and anguish, as well as "heartsarnes," which is grief that literally causes a "heart-soreness." The English sure knew what they were talking about because that just above covers it all. The heart wants what the heart wants, and we're often just along for the ride.
My dad had it half right, anyway. The heart might be unarmed, but we never have a choice about engaging it in battle, wits or otherwise. We're prisoner to it, but we willingly close our own cell doors every night because this is the price we pay for the beauty and joy of it.
These glorious, petty hearts are the first ones to call for a duel, the first to charge onto the battlefield, and always, always the last to leave a fight. That's why we love them so fiercely and protect them so faithfully. The bravery that each beat takes is maybe the most wonderful thing about us.