The Heart Is A Muscle


At the beginning of every marching band season in high school, we had to stand at attention a lot. Sometimes for more than an hour at a time. Standing perfectly still holding up an instrument doesn’t sound strenuous, but after five minutes, you’re very aware of every muscle you’re using. It was always painful, at first. But over the course of the season, those “attention muscles” strengthened and locked into the right place automatically. After a month or so, it was as easy as lying down.

I never thought I would get to a place where running came naturally to me. But after months on a treadmill, I’m starting to have that old attention feeling. Even if I’m running down the street totally zoned out, my feet keep a steady pace. I don’t have to think about it anymore.

This week, I found out that my favorite cat Gandalf, my companion of twelve years, has cancer. I’ve always felt sure that he’d live to a ripe old age. A month ago, he seemed fine. Now he’s declining so fast that he likely won’t see October. As I looked at an X-ray of his fluid-filled lung and heard the finality in the vet’s voice, I felt my old grief muscles snap into place. In that hazy moment of shock, before I even had time to process the situation, I instinctively knew how to brace myself for a painful reality. I didn’t park on “This cannot be happening”; I automatically moved into “Okay. What do we need to do?” Because when it comes to loss, I have a lot of miles under my feet.

This is the first time I’ve recognized the value of my experiences as training. Not only for general growth, or to encourage others, but also to build my strength and capability for all the losses and crises still ahead of me. To make an increasingly worn path for my heart to follow. To give me an autopilot. It’s never easy, but it gets easier. People like to say that hearts, like bones, are stronger where they’ve been broken. I believe it.

The night before I ran my 5K, I thought about all the times I’d had a cramp, or felt overheated, or my stomach hurt, but I ran anyway. My training gave me peace that whatever happened, I could keep running anyway. As I now care for my feline BFF in his last days (which have come much too soon), it’s both reassuring and depressing to look back over my life and think, I already know this. I’ve done it before. I can do it again.

I have more to say along these lines, but it didn’t gel with the rest of the post. So, part 2 to come next week.

About Brenda W.

Christian. Memphian. Reader. Writer. True blue Tiger fan. Lover of shoes, the ocean, adventure, and McAlister's iced tea. View all posts by Brenda W. →
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6 Responses to The Heart Is A Muscle

  1. I love this post. It’s a great way to think about our pains and experiences. As training. Because you’re right. That’s exactly what they are.

  2. I am so sorry. I am praying for you as you walk this road. I haven’t done it, but I dread it and I know that it can’t be easy. I wish I could give you a big hug and will do so next time I see you!

  3. Milissa says:

    I’m so so so sorry to hear about your fur baby. Thinking about you.

  4. Carol says:

    I hate that you’ve experienced such hurt, but I’m glad you’re able to better handle this. I know it’s going to be hard and you have my prayers. Every time you mention Gandalf, I think of my Pickles.

  5. Sarah says:

    Sometimes I think it’s easier because of past experiences, and sometimes I think things are still as overwhelming as ever. I’m really sorry to hear about your kitty. I know you’ll give the him the end of his life that he deserves.

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