One sweet ride.

September 1, 2011 § 14 Comments

It’s pretty standard issue, a body. Every one of us gets one at the beginning of this trip. It takes a while to get the hang of operating it, coordinating hands and eyes–stuff like that.

Some of us wear bodies that feel borrowed, like someone else has dressed us—for life.

Some get bodies that are defective or just plain ugly.

But in terms of function, they’re all the same. A body is a vehicle; it’s just that some of us rattle around on roller skates, while others tool in Maseratis.

The distribution system seems random and not particularly fair, but there is no Better Business Bureau with which to lodge a complaint.

Aside from the self inside the body we inhabit we interact with all other selves from the outside. The package that contains the self is the easiest thing to react to, to judge.

Other people fall in love first with the texture of our skin, our scent, the way we laugh, the timbre of our voice–our body.

It’s easy to snap-judge and summarize someone based on how they clothe and care for their body—and that seems reasonable. The body is a billboard advertising the person hidden inside.

Bodies create possibilities and limits. My grandmother, a very large woman, would most often stay in the car when we went anywhere. Getting in and out and walking around were rarely worth the effort.

Conversely, when I was about eight, my best friend Linda had a visit from her cousin, also named Linda. Linda number two was what is known in the medical profession as double-jointed. The things her body did naturally sprained the entire neighborhood of young girls who tried to copy her.

Put the body in charge and it becomes its own universe, a self-contained loop of wants (coffee, ibuprofen, Häagen-Dazs) and complaints (arthritis, poor vision, zits). The body is a big fan of instant gratification: relief, comfort, sex, interesting substances. There are times when the self inside the body must rein the body in, and times when that self should just sit back and enjoy the ride.

My particular body is female, Caucasian, left-handed, blue-eyed. It could never do a cartwheel, not even during its prime cartwheel years (Linda number two sprained me good on that long-ago summer lawn).

From this particular body I view the world through the windows of a 5’6″ tower, an average height that allows me to look into most people’s eyes as opposed to down on their bald spots or up their noses. I sometimes wonder what it would be like to see the world from the vantage point of a cat or a crow or a giantess or a dwarf.

Every body is hard-wired to age (gracefully or otherwise). A body is, after all, perishable.

The older I get the more I view my self as something separate from my body—and at the same time, the more I listen to my body’s small demands and try to treat it with kindness.

Something as simple as warm hands can be enough to placate my body, leaving my self to go about the business of dreaming and planning, storytelling and listening to the interior melodies that make up my own personal Muzak.

My body turned 60 last week. I’m grateful to it for being a low-maintenance, reliable, comfortable ride. The Toyota Echo in my driveway is the automotive equivalent of this body.

I know that sooner or later something’s going to go (the check engine light’s been on in the Echo for a while but I’ve ignored it—and I have a funny tingling sensation in my hands). I’ll take care of both sometime, but when it comes to a body, the owner has to be careful. Keep the body going, but don’t let it dominate.

The elderly often talk about their aches and pains the way they once spoke of their children. An aging body can become an all-consuming preoccupation.

Although the body is something we’re meant to leave behind, witnessing death firsthand has shown me how the body and self yearn to stay together for just a little longer. I don’t know which does the holding on most intensely. The body certainly has no future after death, but the self inside that body must cling too. After all, it is the body that gives us all we know of pleasure and love…chocolate…blue skies… Beethoven.

Nobody can truly know what we will see when we shed the blindness of our bodies, but I hope what we will experience is not so different.

To hold each other and be held—although it will surely change–I hope that doesn’t die with the body.

And I hope that what I consider to be my self is not an artificial construct, an illusion created by my isolation in this body; I sometimes fear that the self is  water in a glass. Break the glass, and the water returns to a general pool that I call, because I know no better term, the life force.

But maybe all I fear is the unknown.

If I don’t persist as an individual, perhaps I will experience the great relief of joining—or rejoining—a force so large and inclusive that loneliness will be only a shadowy memory.

It might feel like letting out a long-held breath.

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