“…if you need a hint at God’s providence, look at a medical textbook and see what you have been spared.”
Yesterday, I watched a video about a kid who had Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a degenerative disease that slowly robs you of your ability to move your body, leaving you paralyzed. It was disturbing, but also thrilling in a way to see someone take such a hideous ailment in stride. Listening to him talk and joke about how he was getting ready for the day he would no longer be able to move his arms above his head, I stood up. I walked around, picked up a water bottle. Put it down again. I stood on one leg, did pushups, juggled, danced, ran in place. I tried to feel, deeply, the thrill of simple physical movement, knowing someone, somewhere was utterly unable to.
That night, as I lay in bed, I contemplated the question: What does it mean to be to be in this body? How many people are in bed right now, wishing that for one day, one hour, they were able to live in my body? People with ailments, degenerative disorders, crippling injuries. Beyond the public eye of friends and family, the need to be outwardly strong for others, to play the hand they are dealt. Are they secretly wishing, yearning with an intensity I could not fathom that one morning their problems would evaporate as they woke up and saw my face in the mirror?
What would that mean for them? How would they react? What would they do with this body? Would they jump for joy? Lace up and sprint through suburban streets for countless midnight hours? Burst out the house dancing and leaping? Tearfully thank the Universe as they could finally….what? Walk? See? Breathe?
In that instant I begin an experiment. I attempt to calm my mind and try to place myself within that imagined situation. I lay back and close my eyes; try to imagine what would make someone want to leave their body, what would make this body the greatest gift to them.
Slowly I sit up, deeply feeling that motion. My back and stomach muscles painlessly, effortlessly flexing to bring my torso into a sitting position. I tear the blanket off my lower half.
My legs…I have both my legs...
I swing both my legs over the edge of the bed and stand up. No thinking, just movement.
I can stand…
I inhale, feel my chest swell. My lungs happily and expediently absorbing oxygen. So smooth and effortless is my breathing process that I can safely forget about it for hours. Would someone with Cystic Fibrosis ever forget? Would she tremble with joy and relief at every breath? For months? For years?
I feel my skin, tense my arms and legs. No pain, no numbness, just clear sensing. I choose an area of skin near my shoulder and pinch it, caressing it. Like someone with a burn or wound would neurotically scratch at. It’s healthy, able. Doing what it should.
I bring awareness to my pulse, slow and strong. My heart happily pumping oxygen rich blood to my most distant extremities. I can feel the pressure wave radiating from my chest out towards my limbs. Like a silent: yes…yes…yes I’m here for you. My other organ systems I cannot sense, my kidneys, liver, intestines, I attempt to direct attention toward them. Filtering blood, digesting food, a chorus of silent complexity performing without the smallest iota of discomfort.
I flex my joints, squat down, jump up. I make a tight fist, then wiggle my fingers. No pain, no stiffness. Each joint and limb moving fluidly, utterly obeying my intention. I pick up a dumbbell and hold it out at arms length. I feel my arm growing weaker, trembling, then finally lowering. I wonder what it would feel like to have that sensation when I brush my teeth…
I look at my lovehandles, my slyly receding hairline. Would another person laugh with giddy sarcasm at the triviality of criticizing such qualities, knowing that I have both my lungs, both my kidneys, both my hands and feet? I’m not on dialysis today. I’m not on chemotherapy. My bedside table is free of pills and needles…
Finally I stop and go to bed, resting my attention on my heartbeat as sleep takes me.
Days later I think, was I deluding myself? Did I honestly think I could capture the feeling of being able to walk, and breathe and feel my left arm again and bend my knees without wincing after a “lifetime in another body”?
At first I would disagree with this assertion, but slowly, I begin to forget. I huff and puff about paying twenty dollars for parking. I grow impatient waiting for a washroom. I am bored at the computer. I forget about the trillion dutiful cellular reactions all being performed successfully to support ‘me.’
But I don’t forget completely.
This question has become a touchstone for me. The sensing of my body: an anchor. Now, every morning when I shower, I try and consciously thank each part of my body. Shoulders hips knees elbow ankles wrists fingers toes. Bones nerves blood fat muscles skin. Kidneys liver stomach lungs heart spine brain. Synovial fluid cerebrospinal fluid lymph nodes, marrow. I try and imbue a feeling of reverence and compassion towards this organism which is dutifully carrying a living consciousness, like Atlas under the globe. Like a beautiful rose I notice and smell once more.
I am inside that rose, the vigor of youth, and today, I will cherish it.