Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Thoughts on a dead red-winged blackbird

Another dead bird story....

An active red-wing blackbird's heart rate is a hard thing to find on the internet. An American robin's runs 570 beats per minute at rest, but a pigeon's only 115. (It does, however, bang up to 670 bpm when active.)

So I am going to make an assumption that a red-wing blackbird's heart beats around 500 bpm. That's 30,000 beats in an hour, a bit over a quarter billion in a year. They can live over 15 years, but not with winters like this one.

Found on the edge of the Delaware Bay

A human heart beats about 3 billion times in the lifetime of an elderly American.
The red-winged blackbird I found frozen on the edge of the bay has a still heart, one that may also have beaten as many times as the average American's if the bird had lived a dozen years.

No way to tell.

Modern humans like to measure things. On Wednesday my modern heart doctor will measure a few things with modern instruments, and he will give me modern advice (again), and I will likely ignore some of it (again).

His job is to maximize the finite number of times my heart will beat; mine is to maximize what I do with the beats I have left. These are not coincidental goals, and for what it's worth, neither of us expects me to drop dead suddenly anytime soon, even if I ignore some of his advice.

What we choose to measure, or that we even choose to measure, dominates our culture and infects our schools. We are raising children to contribute to the global economy, as pointless a task as counting how close we are to the 3 billion beats most of us will get, especially if the last few million are as agonizingly painful as those of my mother, and so many others.

Photo by Steve Paine, shared via CC

I do not believe that any of us are born with a specific given number of heartbeats, but I do know we are born with a finite number of them.

Doctors, teachers, carpenters, economists,  we all count.

We all count.

Make the best of them.


Mary Ann Reilly said...

Such a poignant observation: "His job is to maximize the finite number of times my heart will beat; mine is to maximize what I do with the beats I have left." Counting allows us to appear to hold steady what is always in flux.

Thanks for this.

doyle said...

Dear Mary Ann,

Thanks for the words. Thinking of you.