Friday, March 13, 2009

The Sums of Our Parts

I went to the doctor the other day for my first physical since I was a kid. I'm now on insurance and therefore can get onto the mainstream medical grid. Yes , I can now say goodbye to my homemade treatments of kerosene and vinegar for infections and rashes, and chaws of tobacco and saliva for, well, everything else. True medicine has arrived.

Anyways, they weighed me, hooked me up to an ekg, took my blood pressure, drew blood, and the doctor felt different nodes checking for lumps, and made me did the "cough thing" while I stood there naked. Not pleasant.

As I was talking to the doctor I realized his vision of me was strictly a physical one: white male, 27, 163lbs., etc. To him, whatever virtues I may have, and whatever qualities there are in my personality were inmaterial. The issue was were my parts working or were they not.

I realized this is the opposite ethic and focus for what I do day to day. I try to look past physical stature and appearance and see what's happening underneath. A person, after all, is much more than just a physical body. However, I was reminded of a truth about our spiritual lives by these thoughts. We are indeed spiritual AND physical beings and the two worlds certainly do tie together.

I came to the realization that a spirtual discipline I have never considered was thinking on and coming to grips with my physicality's ultimate failure. I'm not being macabre, it's just the the world death rate holds pretty close to 100%. So I started to think, how will my spiritual life work when these physical parts stop working? Will I still have as much faith? I know I focus mainly on the spiritual in people, but I must acknowledge the physical's role.

In our day and age, when 60 is the new 40 it's easy to bury thoughts of death and mortality, but a short time ago people had to face death more suddenly and more often. I remember seeing in Europe paintings of saints done in the 17th century-- as they prayed some would be holding a human skull. It was a common practice in art, showing that the saints often meditated upon their own mortality in light of God's eternity:

I recall another art piece where there were skulls hidden in the image-- you could only see them from a certain angle. Anyways, it just seems that where we try to bury, deny, and outrun our own mortality, there used to be more of an honest acknowledgement of it. They were comfortable enough with death to show people praying with skulls in their hands, for goodness' sake. I think such an acknowledgement today would be a good thing.

So as I went running that night, I was thankful for the legs that carried me, and having clear lungs with which to breathe. But even in that jog I thought of my doctor's visit, St. Francis praying with the skull, and the day ahead when I will be able to run no more. I must remember to be thankful for health and yet acknowledge my health's eventual end. But this isn't pure tragedy--we are much greater than the sums of our parts.


  1. Speaking as one who is about to arrive at 60 years of age, in just a few weeks, I can testify that I didn't appreciate my youthful body enough at the time. I certainly wish I had taken better care of it...especially the whole muscle/skeletal thing. But, I am way more comfortable with the fact of my own mortality and the prospect of my death. Not that I'm in a hurry for it, but I can just now start to see the net result of my having been here and I am satisfied with whatever can be called my legacy. And I have full confidence in the things that I hope for in the future.

  2. Let me say, "163 lbs, and all of it pure muscle."

    Was that gross?

    Great post.

  3. Touche` Becky. tee hee.

    I'm sticking with vinegar for as much as possible. That and ibuprofen. I appreciate it more and more as my body cooperates less and less.

    Like you, I'm trying to cherish and appreciate this relatively pain-free mobility while I can. We are fearfully and wonderfully made!

  4. I'm glad someone finally told me that 60 is the new 40. Whew, what a relief!