Thursday, June 25, 2009


Belly up to a smokey bar, I sat between my future husband (though that had not been determined yet) and a friend of ours. This was probably 15, 16 years ago. It was an establishment busy on the weekends (which start on Thursday in terms of happy hour), but low key on this day. Probably a Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon.

Our friend seemed carefully placed where ever he was with the intention of providing counterpoint to anything perky. He spoke in a low, raspy smoker's tone, a cadence slow and peppered with dramatic pause and a killer Midwestern accent. His eyes were open as wide as I'd ever seen them at half-mast. His head hung on a slightly bowed neck, also suggesting energy meted out through only the smallest of openings. He held his cigarette still, slowly hauling it up for a puff after long breaks. The only thing that belied more focused and sustained energy may have been his ever perfectly coiffed salt and pepper hair.

On this afternoon, our friend Coop regaled Michael and I of his finite heartbeat theory. He reeled us in with each of its tenets. We half smiled, knowing that Coop intended both to entertain us and completely convince us simultaneously. Coop was usually highly successful in his attempts to amuse, maybe not so much in his attempts to sell his theories and tales of personal adventure.

According to the thinker at the bar with us that day, all living beings are prescribed a certain unchanging number of heartbeats when we are born. This number is unknown to us, and cannot be diminished or increased by anything we do. Our task is simply to chose how fast or slow to spend down our heartbeats. He maintained that smokers, drinkers and the "less clean" living among us spend them faster by choice. Those that choose to live virtuously are simply hoarding heartbeats to have a few extra when they are old. Exercise and cardio work is a bad idea - also burns through heartbeats quickly, but is considerably less fun than partying, in the book of Coop.

I have thought of his theory hundreds of times if not thousands of times since he unveiled it to us that day. I run situations up against it, play with it, think about how many heartbeats a glass - or a bottle - of wine costs... I wonder how many heartbeats my kids each have been allotted, how they will spend them. I joke with myself internally that Michael is squandering precious beats with his marathons and training.

I was made to think about it again yesterday when I heard the news that T. Christopher Cooper's countdown of heartbeats reached the single digits and then ultimately, reset to zero. Coop died early yesterday morning at the age of 46, the same age as my dad when he died. I wondered if the number was revealed to Chris at any time, if he got to count along as the numbers wound down. I chose to believe that he did.

Rest, friend. No more counting, spending, saving. You have made your mark in many places, people, hearts. We are honored to have cashed in some beats with you.


1 comment:

Cindy said...

Beautiful tribute. I'm glad you knew him!

In defense of Michael's long life, I have heard the argument that exercise decreases your lifetime number of heartbeats...Michael probably has a much lower resting heartrate than the rest of us, so his heart is working less when it's resting than anyone who doesn't exercise. But I can't do the math to prove it one way or the other...someone else made the argument. ;)