These are the organs you can live without: stomach, spleen, colon, gallbladder, testes/ovaries, appendix, and kidneys. You cannot live without lungs.
I think about the relationship between lungs and the human voice. I think about opera singers, and wonder if it is the size of their lungs – sitting either side of the heart – that makes them traditionally fat. I cannot hold a note in either sense. When I try to sing I am usually out of tune (how I used to thrill to hear my ex-girlfriend tell me I had inadvertently managed to harmonise with a vocal line in a song on the radio!), and tend to run out of breath at the wrong moment. I suppose my lung capacity is small.
Sometimes I smoke. Sometimes I remember those TV advertisements in which a black sponge representing a smoker’s lung was squeezed out, thick, dark tar running graphically out into a beaker. I wonder how effective those ads were. They seem almost quaint now, with our plain packaging and their sick babies and amputated limbs and gangrene and that cadaverous man who apparently wasn’t ill from smoking but actually had AIDS.
It’s the heart that is associated with love but I wonder if it should be the lungs. We use them to breathe after all and it is love that takes our breath away. We use them to sing too and we sing, almost always, of love. Love is in the air. You cannot live without lungs and you cannot live without a heart (although we have just one of these).
There is a fish called a lungfish. Wikipedia tells me: ‘Most extant lungfish species have two lungs, with the exception of the Australian lungfish, which only has one.’
There is a song by XTC called No Language in Our Lungs. Some of the lyrics are: ‘There is no language in our lungs/To tell the world what’s in our hearts/No, no, no, no, no, we’re leaving nothing behind/Just chiselled stones/No chance to speak before we’re bones.’
Up until the middle of the 20th century, a person was considered dead if any one of the body’s vital functions – heartbeat, brain activity, or respiration – stopped. If any one of these failed, it was thought, the rest would follow suit. But then someone came up with something called brain death. This happened because of the invention of a machine called the mechanical ventilator, which pushes air into and out of the lungs.
The word ‘lunge’ has its origins in a French word meaning ‘lengthen’. The word ‘lung’ does not share the same root, coming from an Indo-European root word related to ‘light’. Lungs are lights. Without them, darkness.