Close to the surface

One evening last week Whit and I sat in companionable silence in the family room.  He was building a LEGO and I was working.  “Mummy?” At his voice I looked up from my laptop.

“Yes?”  He was perched on the side of the low train table, LEGO pieces in one hand and the other held to his chest.

“I can feel my heart beating.”

“Cool, Whit.”  Why did you suddenly think of this?  The inner workings of Whit’s mind and heart will always be a mystery to me.  Which reminds me, daily, of the vast and essential unknowability of even those we love best.

After a long moment of silence, during which I watched him sit, holding his hand over his heart, he spoke again.  “It feels amazing, Mummy.”

Why yes, Whit.  It is amazing.

The next morning was Whit’s seven year doctor’s appointment.  He sat on the doctor’s examination table in just his jeans, his white chest looking impossibly tiny and incomprehensibly grown-up at the same time.  The doctor pressed his stethoscope to Whit’s back.  He asked him to turn his head this way and that.  He kept listening.  Time stretched uncomfortably.  I glanced at Matt, my anxiety mounting.  What was he hearing?  What was he listening for?  Whit looked over his shoulder at the doctor, sensing, too, that this was taking an awfully long time.  “Whit, turn this way,” the doctor’s voice was stern, his face limned with concentration.

I chewed a nail and watched, feeling my own heart skittering in my chest.  Was last night’s comment a harbinger of this, a prompt by the universe to appreciate the amazement of our hearts beating, of this most taken-for-granted and yet outrageous gift?  I could feel my breath speeding up and I began to awful-ize.  He needs open heart surgery.  I should have paid attention last night, put down my computer, pressed my hand to his chest, noticed the extraordinary beauty of his ordinary heartbeat.  I should have done that years ago.

“Okay,” the doctor cleared his throat and pulled the stethoscope out of his ears.  “He’s fine.”  I exhaled, but only part way.  “But you can hear the whooshing of the blood in his aorta.  It’s something we see rarely in kids, and I kept asking him to turn his head to test if it was that or not.  I wish my med student was here right now; this is rare and it’s cool to hear.”

“But it’s really just normal, and not an issue?”

“Yes, really.  Promise.  It’s just a detail.  It’s interesting, and unusual.  His blood just flows close to the surface, your kid.”  I exhaled the rest of the way and helped Whit pull on his shirt.

After a few more minutes, we walked back to the car.  I thought of a quote I’ve always related to, which I just tweeted recently, by Alan Gurganus: “Her life stayed closer to the skin than most people’s.”  I let go of Whit’s hand and held my fingers against his back.  Thump, thump, thump.  His small heart rabbited against my hand.  It is amazing, mummy.  Calamity is always so close.  We walk the line between ordinary and catastrophe every moment.  Thump, thump, thump.  Close to the surface.

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  1. Posted February 1, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    Exhaling here, too.

    We do, Lindsey, we walk that line in every moment of every day.

    Thanks for the beautiful reminder…


  2. Posted February 1, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    What Christa (above, in comments) said! But let me add an inarticulate: Wow!

    This is gorgeously written – with straight-to-the heart subject matter – I am blessed by this piece. Thank you, Lindsey.

    I’m wondering how it is that, though I’ve been here a number of times (and blessed each time) I never before noticed the Erdrich quote…also wondering how it is that I never signed up for notification of new posts (rectifying that NOW).

  3. Erin
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Lindsey! Such GREAT writing! Loved this so much. It’s beautiful and perfect. xo

  4. Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    This motherhood thing….is there anything more intense or wonderful? I will be visiting again.

  5. Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    As usual I could say so much. But I’ll stick close to the surface….and just say how different each of our lives are…… I mean, my husband travels all the time and would never be at a well check visit with me……..

    admin Reply:

    This was Matt’s very first well visit in 9.5 years of being a parent …

  6. Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Beautiful Lindsey. We all live close to the surface; the veil is thin. It’s just that most people don’t notice it, or choose not to. You do. It’s what makes you you. Which is why I’m always here, reading.

  7. Posted February 1, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Really lovely writing. Amazing how little medical details can resonate on such an metaphysical level.

  8. Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    Wow. Just, wow. Goosebumps.

  9. Ari
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Wow. Wow. Glad everything is okay.

  10. Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    Oh wow. I have been there with Gus. Even though you know everything is fine, there is that hitch, that possibility … as Katrina says the veil is so fine.

    What is so stunning is how beautifully you have portrayed this, where we all are all the time on one side of luck or another. Thank you as always for reminding me of the blessings.

    AND so glad your little man is OK!!!!!!!

  11. Posted February 1, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful piece. You say so much with so few words, which is a gift. After my mom died, I really relate to that feeling like calamity is so close. That things can go from fine to catastrophe in the blink of an eye.

  12. Posted February 1, 2012 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful piece. I too held my breath until the end. So many important things in this…

  13. Posted February 2, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Love this. Love the way you use the medical to evoke the metaphorical. Love the idea of living “close to the surface.” xo

  14. Posted February 3, 2012 at 7:13 am | Permalink

    Oh my, my own heart was beating way too fast while reading this. So glad all is ok with Whit. I was just writing about this very thing yesterday- and you summed it up so perfectly- “we walk the line between ordinary and catastrophe every moment”. That’s the exact sentiment I was looking for.

  15. Posted February 7, 2012 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Gorgeous and glorious. I exhaled loudly when i learned that Whit is OK. And basked in your beautiful reminder. xoxo

  16. Ranjani
    Posted June 8, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    Iam so glad I came across this. So beautifully written.Thank you

  17. Posted January 26, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    Like others that have commented, I was holding my breath, my heart beating fast, hoping that the first few sentences were not a foreshadowing. How often as parents do we in those few moments of “unknowing” go to a place in our mind that we never want to go or be. Thank you for sharing that moment of pure parently terror, then the wonder of just their hearts beating.

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  1. […] life can change, how we can swerve from normalcy to heartbreak in a matter of seconds.  Last week my friend Lindsey wrote, “Calamity is always so close.  We walk the line between ordinary and catastrophe every […]