Love Your Heart: Toni Morrison’s Recipe for Sanity, Joy, and Self-Regard

Thinking recently about what it suggests to have the ideal heart, which intimates the concern of what it indicates to tend to ones own heart appropriately, I was reminded of a passage from what might be the loveliest, truest, most silently transcendent thing ever composed about the art of aging: “The main point is this,” Grace Paley composed in 1989, “when you get up in the morning you must take your heart in your 2 hands. You must do this every early morning.”

I was advised, too, of a kindred passage penned 2 years earlier by another titan of idea and sensation in language: Toni Morrison (February 18, 1931– August 5, 2019), composing in her 1987 work of art Beloved (town library)– the novel that quickly made her the first black lady to receive the Nobel Prize, which she got with a speech of incredible insight into the human heart.

Toni Morrison. Jacket photo for her debut book, 1970. From within the storys broader meditation on the deepest meaning of flexibility and the body as the locus of liberation, Morrison unspools this magnificent belief from the lips of her lead character:

In this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard.

A century after Walt Whitman declaimed in Leaves of Grass that “the body is the significance and includes, the main concern and consists of and is the soul,” composing his reverent catalogue of body-parts– “head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears … mouth, tongue, lips, teeth … strong shoulders … bowels clean and sweet … brain in its folds inside the skull-frame … heart-valves …”– Morrison writes:

Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face … Love your mouth … This is flesh … Flesh that requires to be enjoyed. Feet that require to rest and to dance; backs that require assistance; shoulders that need arms, strong arms … Love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. And all your inside parts that they d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to enjoy them. The dark, dark liver– love it, like it, and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than feet or eyes. More than lungs that have yet to draw complimentary air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts … love your heart. For this is the reward.

Precious stays the uncommon sort of work of art that provides the English language back to itself and your conscience back to itself. Complement this particular fragment with, then revisit Morrison on literature as disobedience and redemption, wisdom in the age of details, the artists task in attempting times, and the little-known, charming childrens book about compassion she wrote with her boy.

Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face … Love your mouth … This is flesh … Flesh that needs to be enjoyed. Feet that require to rest and to dance; backs that require support; shoulders that need arms, strong arms … Love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. The dark, dark liver– enjoy it, love it, and the beat and beating heart, like that too. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving personal parts … like your heart.