Hearts are everywhere we turn

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Did you know that in California you can get a heart on your license plate? You know, as in “I (heart) my dog.”

Ten years ago, our son TJ was married to a wonderful girl in California, so the heart motif was pretty prevalent. It did my heart good to be part of such a heartwarming and heartfelt event. (Can you see where this is going?)

I happened to notice quite a few cars with the heart on the license plates as we traveled the freeways of the Bay area near San Francisco. That got me thinking about why we do that. Why do we use the symbol of a stylized heart to represent love – and other emotions? You see it everywhere, don’t you? – bumper stickers, keychains, tattoos, valentines, necklaces, rings, earrings – everywhere.

So how did we come to use the heart, a pretty ugly piece of muscle, to be symbolic of love? The real thing is shaped more like a squishy, yellow-red rugby ball; the symbol is, well, heart-shaped. So the question again is: Where did this shape come from, and why is it so tied to love and romance? Even though they barely resemble one another in form, the valentine heart has come to represent the human heart, symbolizing love and compassion. Weird?

I guess the heart has been used for centuries to symbolize the spiritual, emotional, moral, and – sometimes in the past – also intellectual core of a human being. I guess people used to believe that the heart – not the brain – was where the human mind resided, so the word heart began to be used poetically to refer to the soul, and the stylized depictions of hearts became prevalent symbols representing love. That’s probably better than using the brain as the symbol, right? The brain is even uglier than the heart.

Even in the Bible, the heart was ascribed some mystical significance, either as metaphor or as an organ genuinely believed to have spiritual or divine attributes. In Genesis, the scripture writer locates the thoughts of evil men in their hearts, and in Exodus we hear about the Lord “hardening Pharaoh’s heart.” The Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary are traditional Roman Catholic devotional images.

We use expressions like “Feel it in your heart” (or “your heart of hearts”). There’s heartfelt joy, all the love in my heart, things are at the heart of the matter. We have lighthearted moments and heavy hearts. Our hearts can belong to Daddy, or we can leave them in San Francisco. Our hearts can “cry for you, sigh for you, die for you.” And then there’s that gang that sang “Heart of My Heart.”

Your heart can beat faster or leap for joy. Your heart can be in your boots or in your mouth. Your heart can skip a beat, or your heart’s not in it at all.

You can have a heart of gold or a big heart. You can be cold-hearted, hard-hearted, or broken-hearted. You can wear your heart on your sleeve. You can cross your heart and hope to die, cry your heart out, eat your heart out, have a change of heart, or just have a heart.

You can have your heart set on something, set your heart at rest, be soft hearted, or take something to heart. You can experience a heartbreaking loss or a heartwarming event – like TJ’s and Kim’s wedding.

Kim now has a place in our hearts and the hearts of all our family. We HEART Kim!

Roger VanHaren can be contacted at rjmavh@gmail.com.