Thinking lately about what it means to have the right heart, which intimates the question of what it means to tend to one’s own heart rightly, I was reminded of a passage from what may be the loveliest, most real, most quietly transcendent thing ever written about the art of growing older: “The main thing is this,” Grace Paley wrote in 1989, “when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your two hands. You must do this every morning.”
I was reminded, too, of a kindred passage penned two years earlier by another titan of thought and feeling in language: Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931–August 5, 2019), writing in her 1987 masterpiece Beloved (public library) — the novel that soon made her the first black woman to receive the Nobel Prize, which she accepted with a speech of staggering insight into the human heart.
From within the story’s broader meditation on the most profound meaning of freedom and the body as the locus of liberation, Morrison unspools this splendid sentiment from the lips of her protagonist:
A century after Walt Whitman declaimed in Leaves of Grass that “the body includes and is the meaning, the main concern and includes and is the soul,” composing his reverent catalog of body-parts — “head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears… mouth, tongue, lips, teeth… strong shoulders… bowels sweet and clean… brain in its folds inside the skull-frame… heart-valves…” — Morrison writes: