My Big Heart: An Exercise in Learning to Be Who I Now Am

Iikka - New Haven, Connecticut
Entered on July 12, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: hope, illness
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Sometimes I am uncertain. Often I am a little foggy at the edges. Always I am aware that I am not the same. But I believe in my heart.

My heart is very large, compared to the ‘average’ human heart. It is large because I am large, and because I have been pushing it since I was quite young. The body responds to stress, and the heart is no different. As I grew, it grew. It accompanied me on my journey to athletic confidence, skill, and success. I was the healthiest guy I knew. On May 18th, 2004, I was involved in a serious boating accident. I was 19 years old, and my heart stopped. Thanks to miracle after miracle, my devastated heart was repeatedly coaxed back into function, at first haphazard and uncertain, then stronger, stronger, stronger. In the months that followed, my heart beat strong and true through a cancer diagnosis, limb salvage surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, a stroke, and a life-threatening infection.

I shattered a bit of who my family thought I was, falling so hard and so fast. But that simply cannot be helped – that is life, that is growing up, and that is all. There are no guarantees for me. There never were, really, I am just aware of it now. I discovered this in the midst of a month-long bicycle journey through the heart-rending stark beauty of rural Utah. It was a tour I probably was not healthy enough to undertake, but I had to. And I do not regret it. Feeling my heart beat hard and strong taught me that I can do this, I can keep going, I can swallow the pills and man up and see it all through. I may wind up in the cancer ward again – it has happened twice before, after all, and it is where I have met dozens of inspiring, strong, balanced, and entirely good people. I may endure more heart surgery, more back surgery, more anything that can be operated on surgery. I am on time borrowed from those lost. My life is not only my own, anymore. I carry a piece of all those who touched me before their passing in my oversized heart – my life is theirs now, too.

I hope to marry. I hope to have children, and they will bear in their names reminders of all those who saved my life. I hope to run, to sail, to bike, to swim, until the day I die. If I have it my way, I will die an old old man on the deck of my boat, enveloped back into the sea that made me who I am. No one will mourn my passing. It will not be unexpected or jarring in any way. I will not be “too young,” and it will not be “too soon.” Instead, those who knew me will smile and nod with a memory in their eyes, and the peace in their hearts that comes from knowing that all is as it should be.