“I think you’re having premature ventricular contractions,” John said. The great advantage of being a nerd is that your nerd friends often wind up with interesting and useful skills…like fixing human hearts.

John asked that I not call him Doctor Maloof, though he’s sure earned the title and if I went to school for a decade you better believe I’d tattoo “Dr. Groves” into my forehead and answer to nothing else.

“Is that a bad thing?” I asked…about the contractions, not the ego tattoo.

“It feels scary but it’s benign,” he said. “It’s very common. Lots of people have this. It usually passes without treatment.”

He explained that what’s probably happening beneath my ribcage is that my heart is racing for a few beats and then…

“It pauses,” he said, “And when it resumes beating that first beat is extra powerful. So you feel it in your chest and neck.”

Wait a minute…

“My heart is stopping?”

“Pausing,” he corrected.

Pause. noun. “A temporary stop in action.”

My friend John is getting a dictionary for Christmas. A pause is most definitely a stop – temporary though it may be.

His nurse stuck a bunch of wires to my chest. “Jumper cables? I asked. “Nothing that fun,” she said. I blushed as she ran the thin gray strands to a box the size of a beeper and stuck it in my front pocket.

For twenty-four hours this technology allowed a computer miles away to eavesdrop on ever beat and every pause. To make sure I’m merely having contractions and not something else.

Contractions that give birth to what? A little more reflection than usual for starters.

I turn forty this year. And I was just remarking to somebody about how getting older has mellowed me. I don’t envy teenagers or newly married couples, the people next door with kids under three – no matter how smooth their skin is. I worried too much at their stage of life. But now…just about every worry turns out to be benign in the end.

The unexpected and the difficult are scary, sure, but common to us all: A temporary waiting and wondering what happens next. A passing opportunity to reflect and trust and grow. A pause in the rhythm of life…but life beats on.

“Are you going to die?” Penelope fretted.


“Is your heart going to be OK?” Gresham asked from under the covers in the dark.

“The doctor thinks so.”

“Are you scared?” Gabriella wondered, reaching for my hand.

“No. It’s just a pause.”

So we wait.