02.23.2014 _____________________

A friend of mine had a heart attack last summer, although she describes it, rather off-handedly, as a “cardiac incident.”

Healthy, fit, always attentive to exercise and diet, she was brought low by an attack of Takotsubo cardiomyopathy. Takotsubo, often precipitated by acute emotional stress, either personal or workplace induced, is also known as “broken-heart syndrome.” In Japanese, “tako-tsubo” means “fishing pot for trapping octopus,” as the left ventricle of Takotsubo patients resembles that shape.

Her diagnosis was facilitated by the presence of biomarkers — indicators of what she had endured and survived, and measurable during her recovery. Biomarkers measure and evaluate biological processes like blood pressure, heart rates, and glucose and cholesterol levels — characteristics which can indicate presence of disease.

While there is now emerging evidence of biomarkers for depression and bipolar disorders, and hope for researchers searching for biomarkers to identify brain tumors early enough to be operable, not enough research is being done to identify the spiritual biomarkers with which we are endowed.

Broken hearts are not unknown in America, whether from personal loss or from loss of the American dream. The stress levels one must endure for our hearts to stop, for personal loss or despair that brings us to the edge of darkness, is unimaginable.

“We have made some of you as a trial for others: Will you have patience?” Quran 25:20.

Our communal hearts should despair when in Georgia the legislature votes to produce license plates imprinted with a Confederate flag — the very symbol of insurrection against the United States and the flag under which slave owners fought to keep slavery alive in America.

Our communal hearts should break when, during Black History Month, the statue of James Meredith, the first black American to matriculate at the University of Mississippi, is found with a noose and a Confederate flag draped around its neck.

Are these biomarkers? What are they telling us?

I don’t believe someone is born into such hatred and prejudice. I believe we are all born with an innate sense of the good, with the capacity to recognize goodness, to understand the need for fairness and justice in our lives, and to recognize each other’s equality and dignity.

For biomarkers to be usable they must be, beyond being safe and easy to measure, consistent across gender, racial, religious and ethnic lines — they must be bias-free and serve the common good. Researchers have yet to find, within our spiritual universe, those unique biomarkers that inform these capacities so we may find ways to release the power of good.

But I believe they exist.

Writer Jamal Rahman says his parents used to tell him, “Blessed are the flexible, for they will never be bent out of shape,” as a way to emphasize the need for temperance and reasonableness in our lives.

I believe many have formed hardened shells around their hearts and minds, shielding themselves from the truths that would enable them to live in temperance and reasonableness. Their shells are multi-layered, formed by families and neighbors, informed by mythologies no longer valid, reinforced by self-serving narratives and resistant to new ideas.

Imagine shells so hardened that in South Carolina lawmakers voted to deny about $70,000 to two public colleges that included books with gay themes on their freshman reading lists.

Imagine shells so hardened that in states like Arizona, Kansas, Idaho, South Dakota and Tennessee legislation is introduced that, under the pretense of preserving religious freedoms, permits citizens to legally discriminate against others if motivated by religious beliefs — a return to the shameful heritage of a Jim Crow America.

Are these biomarkers? What are they telling us?

How do we read biomarkers that challenge our understanding of each other? How do we use knowledge to connect to our goodness and live within a holistic community that is nourished by all?

My friend still lives because she got to the hospital in time, got great medical care and has been diligent in her recovery. Recurrence of Takotsubo, which results in no physical damage, is rare.

She will continue to thrive.

Sadly, we thrive less well. We need more biomarker research to facilitate early intervention against injustice and discrimination, and to be able to inoculate future generations against outbreaks of prejudice and bias.

Together, let’s reconnect temperance and reasonableness with the American dream.

This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.

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