Come clean, William Schroeder! It is nice to know that you're in good shape, that your artificial heart has saved your life and that you can hear it pumping inside you like "an old-time threshing machine." That's all very nice, but it's not what we want to hear. We want to know this: Can you wear an artificial heart on your sleeve?
Oh tell us, William Schroeder, does your artificial heart race with passion, does it jump into your throat, does it stop with emotion? Does it leap and does it sing? Is it still the place where love and courage resides, the home office of the emotions, the one organ that used to be both irreplaceable and irresponsible? Tell me, William Schroeder, is the heart still the heart or is it just a pump?
Of course, it's possible that Schroeder may not yet know the answers to these, the most important of all questions. He's been flat on his back in a hospital room -- weak, probably scared and being bully-ragged by a procession of doctors. This is not exactly the environment for romance, although strange things have happened in hospital rooms, or so I've read. Still, no matter what Schroeder reports, we will have to reconcile ourselves to the realization that the heart is a mundane pump and find some other organ to represent love, passion and things along that line.
It's a pity. The heart has served us well. It's centrally located, is a good size, can be heard, can be felt, reacts to emotions, pumps faster because of passion, pumps slower after passion, and has come to represent life itself. There is no other organ you can hear reassuringly pumping away when you lay your head on someone else's chest. I cannot imagine a woman saying, "Oh, John, I can hear your liver making bile."
But the liver, I fear, is the organ that will have to replace the heart as the romantic organ. For unlike the heart, it cannot be synthesized. It cannot be replaced by a machine. Kidneys, for instance, can be replaced and so can almost every organ of the body you can think of -- and even some you should not be thinking of. As for the brain, it is too logical, too electrical, too much like a computer, to have anything to do with emotion. And besides, even as I write, the United States and Japan are racing to make a computer that will duplicate most functions of the human mind. We have no choice. We will have to make do with the liver.
This will take some getting used to, but it can be done. On Valentine's Day, for instance, we should start seeing cards with livers on them -- maybe some with a little cupid and an arrow through the liver. People will have to watch their language, too. At the end of the proverbial affair, for instance, you will have to say, "She left me and broke my liver." Or, if you are the one who as done the liver- breaking, you can say, with the appropriate sneer, "Eat your liver out." If someone is timid, they will be called "half-livered" and if you want someone to be bold, you will say, "take liver." One of the boldest men of all time was Richard the Lion-Livered (Richard Foie de Lion), who had a liver as big as all outdoors. If someone is worried and grieved, he will be suffering from "liverache" and if he is really scared he will have "his liver in his mouth." Bridge players will bid "four livers," card players will play "Livers," and if you want to sound really sincere, you can always say, "From the bottom of my liver."
In a very short time, as these things go, the word liver will replace the word heart, and the nine pages of heart quotations in my reference book will become liver quotations of which there are, at the moment, precisely none. The same will happen to popular music ("I took one look at you/that's all I meant to do/and then my liver stood still") and we all know what Tony Bennett will leave in San Francisco. Even Shakespeare will feel the effect: "Now cracks a noble liver. Good-night, sweet prince."
Alas and alack, this awful day is coming. Scientists have taken the heart out of romance and bravery, of sincerity and emotions, and reduced it to a mechanical device. They have killed poetry and maybe also romance, but I, for one, cannot blame them. Their livers were in the right place.