Embodiment and All That Jazz

You will be pleased to know that I went to the doctor today. (Or maybe you don’t care. I suppose that’s up to you.)

I was nervous beforehand. I don’t like going to the doctor. I’ve always been healthy, so I haven’t had to go often, and when I do I feel exposed. My exhilarating trip to the ER at the tail-end of last year was an exception because I felt so ill for a short space of time that I was only slightly bemused to find a strange male nurse’s aide helping me take my bra off. Nothing much mattered at that minute except that someone was there in the moment to fix whatever was wrong.

Yet going to the doctor when I am fully sentient feels enormously vulnerable. I have to get undressed and talk about why I am the way I am with someone who only just walked into the little sterile room which has laminated posters in bold fonts. And also sometimes procedures hurt or are confusing. I’m a bit of a child, perhaps.

But I’m also, frankly, not terribly connected to my body. I don’t pay much attention to what’s going on with it, and tend to assume it doesn’t pay that much attention to what’s going on with me. I clothe it, I wash it, I’m trying to be better about feeding it and sleeping it. Here our relationship begins and ends. A couple weeks ago a classmate asked what sports I played and was a little incredulous that the answer was nothing. But it never has been anything. I can’t touch my toes, and I never really worry about trying.

This trip to the doctor, however, was a quiet triumph. She asked questions and I found myself having to confess the embarrassing eating habits I’ve had for years and struggling to recount exactly how my symptoms felt when I blacked out in December, but also re-iterating what I’ve known for a long time and am getting better about reminding myself of at appropriate intervals: that my emotional and mental state holds sway over the functions of my physical body, and perhaps vice-versa.

Our embodiment  as humans is a Regent pet topic, all wrapped up with our happy fixations on the Incarnation and creation, but as I’ve heard people wax eloquent the last few months, I’ve wondered. I have a body. Am I…supposed to be doing something with it? Is it supposed to be participating in my life somehow?

After I got back from the doctor’s I made my way to the Regent library and sat in a chair in the sun and began to do a little reading and poking for the last paper I have this term. In the process, I pulled up a little essay I’d never read before by Dylan Thomas, called “The Reminiscences of Childhood” and as I read and stepped with mind and heart into the ever-familiar world of well-handled words to see what it had for me today, an actual involuntary warmth washed over my real, physical shoulders, the thin, bony ones God gave me which are currently shrouded in a black sweater. And though I never really had before, I paused in my reading for a moment and thought about that feeling, those muscles unclenching and singing a little song of praise, and I thought to myself, “I have felt this actual, visceral, synapses-firing feeling in just this way thousands of times before, every time I read anything I love, every time I find anything true and potent. This feeling means home to me. It’s perhaps the primary way I know beauty. And it’s physical. My body has been engaging in my deepest loves all along. I just never acknowledged it.”

And then I came here to tell you.

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