Monday, June 4, 2012

The Heart-Mind Connection

Blogging about life instead of social media this week. I hope you don’t mind!

I had the good fortune to get together with a group of female friends recently and the subject of memory, specifically mid-life, female memory came up. We discovered that all of us at the dinner party had read the recent article in the Boston Globe about memory loss in middle aged women. That we all read the article is surprising because all of us at the dinner party work at least part time, are still raising relatively young children, some are knee-deep in the college visit process, and all are juggling the dreaded spring youth sports schedules – making pleasure reading a rarity. However, the article caught all of our middle-aged eyes because we have all found ourselves in memory lapses that make us skeptical about our ability to maintain a healthy memory for the next half-century ahead! No one had any major lapses to report: The usual name recognition gaps and missed appointments. Most instances are comic relief and don’t carry with them any real worries – except maybe the report of a mutual friend who put her purse in the fridge! I’m not sure I can put that in the same classification as forgetting names! But it is nice to know we are all in the same boat and, as the article assured us, that our memory lapses may be a temporary state of mind. We are all suffering from complete overload at a sustained level. It is nice to know the mind is not on a permanent downward trend!
Besides living in the same town and raising children generally around the same age, this group was drawn together by a friend who moved away nine years ago. My friend, Jill, who moved back to her home state of California, was in New England on business, and thankfully extended her stay for a mini girls’ reunion. She was the thread that wove all of us together that night and just being in her presence took me back nine years to memories of what I was juggling then – new mother of a third boy, overseeing a major home renovation, sending my oldest off to Kindergarten, my husband changing jobs, stresses of parenthood, my mother having a malignant tumor removed. All very caregiving-centric memories and all made more vividly clear as a result of Jill’s visit. I am actually amazed at how much I can recall from that year, having not thought hard about it for a long time. I can remember a heart-to-heart conversation I had with Jill about marriage nine years ago, better than a conversation I had 9 days ago.

It is all tied to adrenaline and what lies within our heart. I firmly believe our memories are tied to the level of adrenaline we were producing at the time of the remembered event. Whether it be fear- or joy- or sorrow- or thrill-induced, adrenaline fuels our memory bank. But what we carry in our hearts shapes what we recall, often without warning.

Earlier in the day, before Jill’s arrival, I cheered on my youngest at his soccer game. As I scanned the sidelines at the start of the game, I saw an elderly man arrive, pushing his collapsible wheelchair across the soggy grass. He and his daughter, who I’m guessing to be in her late sixties, set up as close to the field as they could while keeping the shortest distance back to the parking lot. They were about 30 yards from me – I saw them diagonally across the field. Why did he catch my eye? I don’t know exactly. I didn’t know him. I didn’t even know which child was his great-grandson. But it was touching to me to see him make the huge effort to come see his great-grandson play.

Of course it reminded me of my dad, who made enormous efforts to see his grandchildren, and, frankly, anyone who needed him to “show up.” And who, eventually, required the use of a wheelchair which I pushed across soggy ground.

So my heart and my mind caused me to subconsciously check on this man every now and then. At lulls in the soccer action, I glanced over to see him get settled in the chair as his daughter stood next to him. I later saw him doze, with a small slump of his shoulders, and his daughter take a few steps forward for a better view of her grandson. And it was my heart and mind that catapulted me out of my chair into the fastest 30-yard dash I’d done in 30 years when I looked over to see him lying helplessly on his side with his daughter completely unaware that he had quietly toppled out of his wheelchair in his sleep. I was the first person to his side, not because I saw a stranger in need, but because I have an unfulfilled desire to help my dad. Why did I keep an eye on that man? I don’t really know. But I know my heart wouldn’t allow my mind to let him go. And my mind switched my body into rescue mode without a second thought. The small event is burned into my memory now because of adrenaline and because the eyes that looked up at me in stunned confusion were not a stranger’s, but my dad’s.

If I’m lucky enough to have my heart and mind continue to synchronize to keep what is important in my memory bank, then I am lucky enough.


  1. You have me in tears, Kath. Big, big pat on the back for your heroic efforts. There was a reason you were keeping an eye on the man.

    Love it when you write from real life. Keep up the great posts.

    With lots of love and hugs from Kenya!!!

  2. oh Kath, this is as beautiful a story, as you are a person.