Love is a Shark

The other day, I was watching Hercule Poirot. Quite the interesting policier, you know.

For instance, who else could play the good old Belgian detective if not the jack of all trades, the eminent Kenneth Branagh. Who else could play anyone if not him, eh! Branagh is basically the deux ex machina that steps down to intervene when the going gets tough. From the King of England on St. Crispin’s Day to Russian mobster, his road was ever so winding.

Anyhow, not here to expostulate on his consummate skills as a member of the 7th Ars Gratia Artis.

I am here to give Poirot’s character his due.

At one point he engages in a serious conversation with a young lady, who suffers from a broken heart. You see, the lady was engaged to be wed with a serial double-crosser, who was aiming his Cupid’s arrows to the ladies’ wallets instead of their hearts. This black knave of a man had ditched her for another, much richer, not six weeks afore the scene in question.

So now, Hercule is trying to convince the young lady who had lost her fiancé, to get on with her life. And to this she said:

There is a reason the heart is the organ given to Love, you know! If it stops to rest, we die.

Jacqueline de Bellefort played by Emma Mackey

Seeing this scene, hearing this line made me think of how shark biology works. You see, Selachimorpha such as let’s say, Carcharodon carcharias or the Great White, swim around not because they don’t have anything else better to do with their time on Earth. They swim 24/7 365 days per annum because if they stopped, they’d die.

E pur si muove, eh!

So, in a sense, in a literal sense, sharks are just like hearts. Now, who would’ve ever thought about that? Who, in deed?!

Funny thing is that this is true literally, but also figuratively. Think about it! The heart never stops. It beats regularly, with clockwork precision for decades, and sometimes, more than a century. In that span of time, PBS informs us, the human heart will beat 100,000 times per day, or 35 million times in one year, for a total average lifetime of 2.5 to 3.5 billion times.

And you thought I was exaggerating by comparing it to a shark forced to swim ad vitam aeternam, eh! No, my friends.

The heart is a perpetuum mobile device that cannot stop for it will die. It is this perpetuity of its condition that makes it the center of our being. After all, almost all other organs can sometimes fail us. Everybody knows about brain freezes, which are for all intents and purposes momentary lapses in brain power caused by fatigue, stress, or other unknown factors making us act like frozen Windows operating systems. But whoever heard of heart freezes?! Oh, we do know about heart attacks, which are sometimes fatal. And heart syncope, which can be fatal. But for a heart to freeze and then go back to beating like nothing happened, that is quite irregular.

One of my favorite metaphors has always been comparing the human brain to a German sports car, BMW or Mercedes, take your pick. Back in the day, a car, any car really, would take up to 3,000 miles of rodage or break-in period, before it could perform at peak intensity. During this time, you couldn’t really step on the gas too fast or the engine would seize. However, at the end of 5,000 km or about 3 months worth of driving the car like an old lady, you could actually take the sportster to the highway and press the pedal to the floor. You can see that I like F1 racing, eh.

That’s exactly the mental image I used to conjure when I was an undergrad student to explain to myself and others the process via which I was able to memorize and accumulate vast stores of knowledge. You see, every person starts off with a brain that is not broken in. Bottom line, the brain hasn’t had its rodage period. At this stage, if one introduced any stresses to the system their brain may seize and let them down. What is required instead is a constant buildup and a gradual loading of the cerebral mass.

When you start learning, the brain starts developing the neural pathways, prefiguring later moments in its development when its owner will push the pedal to the floor and it will have to ingurgitate and store, catalogue, and be ready to retrieve huge amounts of data.

So, in my analogy, all the brains start off like a shitty Renault, and only some end up like BMWs or Bugattis or Ferraris. It requires steady application of mental effort, and a careful program of incremental accretion of data intake. And that is how you do your own break in, eh!

But coming back to hearts and sharks, I must admit that I am amazed how similar these two are. Both constantly in motion, lest they stop and die, both fish and center of feeling and life share a perpetual motion that is quite enchanting.

And trust me when I say this, to know that even at rest, your heart still works harder than your legs in a sprint, that is mind blowing. Because I walk every day, rain or shine. And I walk fast. Faster than people jog. My ordinary speed of locomotion is 7 to 7.5 kmph. Yet I do not sprint. Sprinting takes humans to 29 kmph. And I don’t know about you, but if a resting person’s heart works harder than the legs of a sprinter, then a heart, a human heart is more like a shark who sensed blood in the water.

And in this analogy, Love is to People what Blood in the Water is to the Shark: a catalyst for going even faster!

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