When Dr. King was examined post death, he was found to have the heart of a 65 year old. He was only 39. To say his heart was heavy and weary, is an understatement. To say it was weighted is to misstate the magnitude of the load. How could being three fourths human, second class citizens, and treated (in law and action) less than equal add up to carrying the most weight? Who can measure the pressure that all of this created on his arteries? How cumbersome were those imbalanced scales of “justice” to live with? Who can calculate how both the need to fight in the first place and how the reality of legalized terror on Blackness aged his heart. And what is the gravity of that legacy of terror and inequity on our hearts now?
I wonder how old my daddy’s heart was when he died. How a lifetime of dreams systemically deferred burdened his heart even without being on the front lines of the battle to end it? What race based traumas he’d stored in his vessels, unable to process them through channels that wouldn’t force him to block or corrode his own?
Five years ago my mama survived a heart attacked that her surgeon said he’d seen take out 97% of the people who came in her condition. Of course there are many factors, some would call them “life style”, yet who can tally the impact of decades of racism, sexism, and poverty on my mama’s heart? How long had she been in that war? Did it start the day she was born? Or did it begin the day that she innocently watched the night news and asked her mother “mama why they put the dogs on the Black children like that?” only to receive no answer other than her mother’s silent tears. Or was it the the constant devaluation? Working more and harder than any man I know for less, always? Or was it the constant scraping to make dollars out of wooden nickels for me and my sister? What really attacked her heart? Who’s counting the additional weight of it all?
Sometimes I lay my head against my husband’s chest and listen to the story it taps out, loud and strong. I feel our Ancestor’s whose blood refused to drown in the Atlantic Ocean swimming within his veins.The ones who survived the field and the lash. The ones that broke the wings of Jim Crow. Sometimes it drums rapid and full of strained whispers, running running, running so fast from the south to the north and back again. I wonder who’s been running through his pulse when I hear that frantic banging from the door of his heart. Who within him was bound and tried to escape? Is my husband’s present life evidence that they found some chamber of freedom?
The other day I asked my two year old son where his heart was and he touched my chest and said “in there” and then pat his own chest, and said “here too.” He smiled.
I wonder if he meant, his heart feels all of the living, age, time, and experiences of mine?
If his heart is already stronger than other little boy’s because of our shared legacy?
I wonder if he meant he carries the wisdom of all the living before him, and also has fuller access to the lightness of his being because of the price they’ve paid?
And I wonder if he will be even more devoted to freedom and liberation of all our people in his lifetime because of that?
I thought of Dr. King’s old heart in that young body.
I thought of all of the hearts that have beat, pulsed, fought (publicly and/or privately), and loved in order for our love to exist.
And I remembered why I stay focused and unapologetic about living in such a way and doing work that supports the hearts of people who’ve been running so far for so long, all while carrying the heaviest load.