The Hidden Heart
After having my baby, I went to a varicose vein specialist. While the technician was performing the ultrasound, she told me that the calf actually serves as “another heart” for the body. She explained that while the heart pumps blood and sends it down to the legs, the calf acts as a second pump by sending the blood back toward the heart. This explained why movement is so important for our body’s general health and why “sitting is the new smoking.” When we sit for too long, blood can pool in the legs, or worse, the body is deprived of the blood it needs.
After the technician performed the ultrasound, the doctor examined me and informed me that I had a few superficial blood clots in my left leg. Frustrated, I asked him, “While expecting, I cut salt from my diet, hydrated, and moved daily. Why did I still clot after delivery?” He explained that while pregnant, the veins expand, and after pregnancy, blood can pool inside the expanded veins, thereby creating a clot. He said that if I had not been careful after the birth, the clot could have easily become a dangerous deep vein thrombosis.
I was comforted knowing that my postpartum efforts were not futile. And boy did I struggle postpartum, particularly with walking.
After birth I could barely stand for quite some time, yet because of the pandemic, I was discharged from the hospital a mere 26 hours after delivering. This was the earliest I had ever left after having a baby, yet I was in worse shape than any other time.
In the hospital, all of my core strength disappeared. I could hardly lift my chest, but the doctors urged me to walk to prevent clotting. With gargantuan effort, I rose from the bed and slowly tried to walk the floor of the hospital as per their suggestion. Each step propelled me forward a mere inch; waking the entire hallway took me forty-five minutes. Just the day before I was capable of so much. Suddenly, having trouble walking left me feeling humbled.
I was scared and wondered when and if I would ever fully recover. Every step was painful, and my slow pace chipped away at my sense of self. Even though one could barely call it a walk, those tiny movements actually saved my life by preventing dangers of deep vein clotting.
This experience, coupled with the technician’s calf analogy, got me thinking.
Our relationship with Hashem can be symbolized by the heart sending blood down to the extremities, and the calf pushing it back up. He is constantly sending us avenues of connection, but if we aren’t doing our part, our spiritual selves will suffer.
Are we taking advantage of opportunities, and finding ways to connect through Torah, prayer, and mitzvot? Hashem never cuts off the supply, but we might not be reciprocating His efforts.
It matters not how large or small the mitzvah performed, prayer uttered, or Torah learnt. Our small efforts effect change. Take for example Moshe, when praying for Miriam, said a mere five words and she was immediately healed from her tzaraas.
Sometimes we are hit with a sudden challenge–like the pandemic, or my inability to walk–and every step forward requires enormous effort. But just like the tiniest movement sends blood back to the heart, so too our miniscule efforts do not go unnoticed. Hashem treasures every tefillah and act of closeness for Him.
At my check-up, the doctor explained that even flexing the foot helps the calf create blood flow. So too, Hashem doesn’t need us to be a marathon runner; He just needs something to work with. If we want to maintain our connection in the harder times, put one foot in front of the other, no matter how slowly, and go forward.
The pandemic hit us last year, and our lives were transformed overnight. Besides the obvious physical and emotional challenges, connecting to Hashem also became more difficult, for various reasons. For some, davening became blocked because their faith was shattered. For others, life became so hectic that just finding a minute to say the morning brachot was challenging.
When circumstances like these arise, we must push on regardless of the challenge. We can’t afford to stop moving, both spiritually or physically. It is when we feel the most overwhelmed or challenged that Hashem is calling to us most strongly for connection.
One afternoon, my husband and I were driving a long distance for a quick getaway. I utilized the long drive to write from my phone. I was in the middle of an important sentence when the wifi connection suddenly went spotty.
I frantically thought, No! Come back! I need the connection!
Later, during the same car ride, I was reciting tehillim and my mind began to wander. I became so distracted that I placed the tehillim down and started to handle something else.
Suddenly, it hit me: perhaps this is what Hashem thinks when we disconnect from him mid-sentence. Wait, where did you go? I want to connect with you!
Hashem constantly sends opportunities for connection in our direction, and when we respond with growth, we succeed. Every small flex or inch forward has a significant impact, and can connect us back to Him.
I was working out in an exercise class and the instructor asked the participants to perform leg lifts. She was not satisfied with stagnation; she wanted each person’s lift to be one inch higher than their previous one. She announced in the middle of the class, “The extra inch makes all the difference in the workout, and isn’t it true for everything in life?” That one inch made the difference between getting a quality workout and just going through the motions.
Here are a few other practical examples:
- You are pressed for time? Say just one additional prayer, or one prayer with more kavana.
- A friend had a baby and you don’t feel you can make them dinner? Push the extra inch and offer to buy dinner, make part of a dinner, or offer to deliver it for someone else.
- Yet another tzedaka email popping up in your inbox? Try stretching yourself and give any amount you can.
- You pass someone on Shabbos and don’t feel like being your friendly self? Greet them with a smile anyway.
- You forgot your daily tehillim commitment, and are too tired to say it? Stretch yourself to say the words.
- You find yourself beginning to speak lashon hara? Push the inch and zip those lips.
It is in these moments of stretching ourselves that a deep connection to Hashem is generated. True growth transpires in the metaphoric flexing of the calf or the inch forward on the hospital floor. In fact, these “extra inch” moments are where the greatest connection is built.
Hashem always sends opportunities to connect back to Him, and it’s our job to receive and respond. When we feel we can’t move forward, just make a small gesture of connection. Hashem will welcome it with open arms, and often surprise us in unimaginable ways. It is in those moments where we discover a truly hidden heart, a deeper connection to G-d.