Light as a feather

As humans, we’re all enrolled in an unofficial continuing education course wherein we learn all manner of skills, facts, coping mechanisms, shortcuts, and tricks of the trade that help guide us through our days. As parents, we learn an unquantifiable amount about ourselves, our children, and the world around us in from a fascinating variety of sources. For instance, I’ve learned so much from the Kratt Brothers and Ms. Frizzle (did you know her first name is Valerie, by the way?). I could talk for hours about Thomas the Tank Engine and write a novella about Angry Birds or Beanie Boos. I know three different ways to accumulate twenty-two flat marbles (there should be a better name for those…the internet gave me “glass globs” but I’m not having any of it) in Mancala on the first move and can sing several songs from the Disney canon, word for word if not note for note, while being exactly half asleep. We all have a diverse and very specific skill set like this, a toolbox of knowledge and ability that is entirely useful in some situations, completely useless in other situations, and constantly under construction.

In an American Girl “Mini Mysteries” book I was reading to the kids, we stumbled upon the ancient Egyptians’ practice of removing the organs from a deceased person and placing them in a canopic jar to be buried alongside the body as part of the mummification process. Add this to the list of “things I probably never would have known if I didn’t have all these kids”! We went on to learn that these cozy jars of innards did not include the heart, which was left inside the corpse in accordance with the belief that a heart was inextricable from the soul, and it alone was necessary to determine the soul’s suitability for the afterlife. Ancient Egyptians believed that the heart would be weighed by the god Anubis (or, in some traditions, Osiris) to discover the caliber of a person’s goodness, and if the heart weighed the same as or less than the Feather of Maat, or the Feather of Truth, the soul was given a ticket to afterlife. If the heart outweighed the feather, however, the soul was either condemned to the Underworld or consumed by Ammit, a voracious demon of a goddess with the countenance of a crocodile, the torso of a lion, and the trunk of a hippopotamus.

The takeaway here is that ancient Egyptians prized the lighthearted as being more virtuous, more righteous, while associating a heavy heart with wickedness. Do our interpretations of the idiomatic notions of “lightheartedness” and “a heavy heart” have roots in this ideology? My limited research on the topic turned up inconclusive results, but either way it’s an idea I appreciate. Imagine for a minute that love does in fact originate in the human heart and emanate from within it. Now imagine that, with each act a person does that is fueled by love, a tiny shred of heart accompanies it, transmogrified into a kind of philanthropic energy, leaving the body of the giver forever to become part of a love-force (perhaps from which infant hearts are generated in this hypothetical scenario to account for the first law of thermodynamics). This would mean that each time a person acts selflessly, graciously, kindly toward another, as an expression of interpersonal love or for the general love of humanity, that person’s heart would lose an atom or so of mass. The more a person loves and acts as directed by love, the lighter his heart would become. Conversely, a person whose actions are guided by forces less magnanimous than love would have a heart much weightier. Having a “heavy heart” would mean living a life in which one was miserly with his love, or at least parsimonious in acting upon its force.

Perhaps, based on this principle, it would make sense that preparing dinner every night for three children who possess incompatible opinions about food makes me feel just the tiniest bit hollow inside 😉

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