I was 12 years old.
I remember wandering around the house alone in the dark, gazing out the window at the flashing red and blue lights, mesmerized, wondering if the neighbors were watching the same lights out their own windows. I remember sitting on the hallway floor, bare toes clenching the brown shag carpet, knees pulled tightly to my chest, arms hugging my shins close, watching paramedics come in and out the front door with varying degrees of urgency. I tried to listen to what they were saying, to understand what was happening, to guess what would happen next. I knew before they told my mother. Before she screamed. No, moaned. She moaned.
Heart attack, they said, later, before the house filled with guests. Massive, it was.
One year I saw a medium who told me he’d said it had hurt. A lot. Like someone throwing a bowling ball at full force into his chest. And then he was gone.
I wonder what he would have to say if he knew I’m a runner now. Me, the girl who used to sit belligerently in the corner during gym class to show how stupid physical exercise was, now a runner. I wonder if he’d know he was part of the reason. That without trying, he taught me the value of a good heart.
This year I am running the American Heart Association’s Wall Street 5k run. I remember last year I watched wistfully as folks gathered at the starting line right in my office lobby. Last year I couldn’t run, or if I could run I’d been convinced otherwise by my doctors who’d discovered signs of intestinal hemorrhage brought on by distance running. This year I’m not letting the odds hold me back. This year I’m running the 5k. And I’m doing it for my dad, Robert L. Heller. February 14, 1942-February 5, 1992.
I wouldn’t be doing my duty not to ask for donations, but truthfully, the better thing to give is a pledge to do something good for your own heart. The weather is perfect for a long walk today. Or even a short walk around the block. Or maybe it’s time to dig out that old pair of roller blades in your closet. Repair that bike chain and get thee to the hills. Hike up that mountain or just down the road. Try your hand at kayaking. Today, take ten minutes to care for yourself. Do it for someone you love. Do it for me. Do it for your heart.