Mapping the Human Heart
It’s a haughty title for a simple thing. While poets and theologians, philosophers and actual cartographers tackle the subject of what it is to be human, I’ve long accepted, our brains aren’t that big, and it may not be for us to know. It gives a certain solace to death, the end of questioning, if we can’t quite wrap our heads around not being from a point of being, and why in the final moments, when stripped of all cultural affectation, we return to prayer in whatever form it may take.
But if this has been the stuff of university scholars and the great minds of generations, over and over again, I see the universe recreated in at all places, at the mall. It’s where the pregnant women and the new moms congregate. For some reason, I’ve spent a lot of my life around babies. Neither having the means I felt necessary (a good husband and daddy and healthy reproductive system) to be a mom myself, I can say as I get older, and deal with more reproductive health issues, I don’t feel the least bit deprived of being around babies, knowing about babies, holding babies, changing the diapers of babies, feeling stressed not being able to comfort a baby, and creating little universes for babies and children to play in. I find my knowledge of birth and early childhood development to be seen as: “How many children do you have?” None. I once wrote a letter to my future children, it was at the turn of the millennium, I felt optimistic at the time, but the letter lays buried in a file box with a 1999-penny. I mailed it myself so it would be post-marked the last day of the millennium, if the U.S. Postal System wasn’t exactly in place a thousand years earlier. If these were romantic things idealizing the state of being a parent, that was the only moment of doing so for me. Too long had I heard about my mother’s vertical Caesarian, been around all my cousins and second cousins as infants, and worked selling baby clothes, in day care, wrangling the kids on television sets and a seeming constant presence of very young children. Briefly, when I wasn’t around pregnant women and very young children, I felt a part of life missing. Still, the cysts and pain of endometriosis reminded me monthly of the bloody realities of reproduction.
My memory can sometime be eidetic. Which in its own way may be a contradiction, but I know perfectly well that I’ve never forgotten one thing in my life. It just takes longer sometimes to recall it depending on stress levels. It doesn’t matter what the memory is either. It can be the smell of the room when something awful was happening or what shirt someone wore at a boring staff meeting in a corporation. When people lie and try to re-characterize the past, I’m often confused by the effort. “But this happened and this happened and this happened and we ran out of creamer and the donuts were stale but so and so went back to the store to get more then we…” I was tested for perfect autobiographical memory by the study shown on “Sixty Minutes” with Marilou Henner. I started out kind of freaking myself out. Given a date twenty five years earlier, I could specifically remember it and what the lawn chair looked like that I sat on in the front yard that night. During the test, I stressed out. I wanted to do well and be special like Marilou Henner, who probably remembers in great deal when we both worked at Paramount around the same time, but then couldn’t bring things up. I wondered if I had known them in the first place. I never know what today’s date is, so past dates prove a problem. I look at calendars and clocks feeling no need to commit any energy to knowing them, they’ll be there tomorrow. Even if an asteroid blew up the planet, the time would still exist that they predicted unless the laws of physics start breaking down, and we have at least eleven dimensions to go before that. If I sound a bit nuts, I know, but this is just from my Physics friends explaining String Theory or M Theory to me. I suspect that while our experience of time and existence is defined by being linear, a to b, the container for the string may be round.
I’m careful about describing my experiences with prescience. It does seem crazy although I don’t have to worry about commitment to an institution in this day and age. Pre-sight happens, but tends to be useless. Maybe I looked at the World Trade Center in terror my whole life. Freaked out when I went to the top of the North Tower in 1978, truly freaked out, but I couldn’t tell you a date or time or why. All I know is that after 9/11, what I perceived as vertigo completely disappeared. The people had already fallen: it was over. All the will and wishing in the world would not put those towers back up. It will always “have happened.” I hate street “psychics.” I had no reason to think about the Trade Center from 1978 to 2001 and only remembered the details, flooding back with insistence, after the attack. I hadn’t been to the Pentagon, but didn’t want to go there either despite loving all the buildings in Washington, D.C. on multiple visits and even living near-by for six months. Just never enjoyed going through Pennsylvania to get there either. Of course, I have to ask, why would I feel that over any other accident or tragedy in a place or time? I would say I don’t. I just can define that one for its largeness and access to specific detail. I also knew I was inches away from being caught up in the events of that day through minor, minor things in my life. “There but for the grace of God…” I struggled for years with: but why for me and not them? I don’t have that answer. I only know what we can do with the grief.
So if scientists on “Sixty Minutes” might take interest in me, and my minister might say, I think you have some special connection to the Spirit – meaning Holy Spirit or Ghost – I know as I get older, I get more clouded. My own memory paints over perception more and more. In some ways good. I used to care to a debilitating fault what people thought of me. Part of it being in an abusive home for a while, always trying to read everything in hopes of avoiding being more abused, more cut-off. Surviving Hollywood and living alone, I really could care less at a fundamental level what people think of me. Am I having a good effect in the world is the question.
But if this all is either high falutin, never did have to spell that word before, metaphysical hokum, or just a quirk of my particular brain, I do know where it all goes back to. The nursery. And even before in the womb. I do remember being quite young, almost in arms, not quite, in specifics. But what I suspect despite a slightly different memory system in my brain is that it’s everything I can’t remember that maps my worldview. I look at my mother and brother who obviously are cut from the same genetic cloth and wonder why we perceive things so differently. We come from the same times and places and share many experiences. But I also suspect I was the lucky one. Maybe I was blessed with certain gifts in the cerebral cortex, but also, I was the closest to a quiet, safe time when I was born.
It was 1967, we still lingered in 1950s sense of structure creating stability, America was on the way to the moon and President Johnson just funded Big Bird. I started life in exactly the same house my mother grew up in. I was the first grandchild on my father’s side of the family. My parents were so young; they were still growing up still themselves, with some of the generosity and foolishness of being under 25. I had aunts and uncles galore. The neighbors were my cousins. The houses were old and ways established. Eastman Kodak made the community wealthy. I talk to people who were young adults at that time. They didn’t worry about the future. Their parents certainly did, with the Great Depression. Of course, subsequent generations do because that is normal and sane. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst is good for life, not just the military.
But I had toys and a backyard and an overprotective mother and other children and educational stimulation, very present grandparents probably amazed to have survived the first half of the 20th century and have a grandchild, and I could just be. Of course not everything was perfect. The monsters in the closet were real and would make themselves known when life became stressed. But somehow, I still have bunny rabbits and dancing flowers at the base of my brain. Perhaps I like babies because that is my favorite time of life. Even getting older, and testing as having a fairly high I.Q., I still wanted pre-school things. Even now, I still enjoy very childish things. Comic books at times can be just a little to grown up and literary. There’s metaphor and psychology in Batman and Spiderman, I prefer Dr. Seuss with his red fish and blue fish.
That was the mapping time. Or blueprint laying or whatever metaphor works here. The basic tune was written but not orchestrated, the pencil sketch without the colors, the pattern drawn but not cut and sewn. As I said, not everything was perfect. My father was absent and struggled then and still with responsibility. I could feel the lack of connection and safety very young, perhaps better then than later. Talking to a psychologist, he couldn’t understand why I wasn’t more resilient in relationships with men when in life I was with everything else. I just hated visiting that dark place. I withered at the reminder of a father who wasn’t going to protect me and all that followed from that. It’s something to work on but have wondered: can that be re-mapped? There were grandpas, other men who served as good models; bur reworking those synapses is difficult.
I wonder about the people without the un-remembered years being filled with stress. As I mentioned, my mother and brother are different. We hardly seem related at times. We go to church, but hear different things. They aren’t as resilient or grateful. My mother was a war baby and my grandfather went off when grandma was pregnant. My brother was brought into a now crowded home with economic stress we didn’t have before and a sister who didn’t like being displaced. Grandma and Grandpa were from the Great Depression as Italian immigrants. I can let go a lot knowing all this and move on.
I watch when young mothers play with their children, talk to them. I notice how attentive dads are to their children who reach for their attention. Working with the public, I feel it is important to try and be nice to children and make them feel comfortable around strange adults, if not too comfortable. I listen when parents yell at their children and project adult agendas upon them. And I know, the world is being mapped for good and ill.
The universe of these children’s lives will long be the beliefs of the adults around them. Not completely their parents, but very much of their parents. Modern medicine has given us a second lifetime to reflect on such things. Generations have been measured in thirty-year spans. At the time, Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t particularly young when he died. Right now, we seem to have two and half lifetimes to contend with, but only historic context for one. Still, we will carry these early childhood maps in our hearts to our graves. We may live around them, overcome them, be defeated by them, but they will be with us when everything else is forgotten.
I don’t think most young parents would understand, nor appreciate the pressure, but the universe is recreated in your child. When someone dies, a world dies. When a child is born, the universe is born again. May there be bunnies and dancing flowers forever, they are much harder to cultivate later on.