May 29, 2009

So What? (or Meat Thinking)

I have soft hands. I've never been interested in manicures or pedicures. I don't even own any nail polish. I don't use any fancy creams, just simple unscented lotion and soap. My nails are healthy and strong and grow quickly. My fingers are long and elegant, my wrists tiny and delicate. I can trace the faint blue veins. I've never had my palms read or my fortune told. I have always enjoyed my hands. They are tactile and sensitive.

I do crack my knuckles and I have been told that is a vice. I crack my thumbs, wrists, and elbows, too. I can roll my shoulders and feel them stretch and pop. I used to be able to lay my upper arm flat across my shoulders behind my neck and I have taken a certain amount of glee in seeing people shudder when I dislocate my hip.

Some years ago I went to visit a physical therapist about my back problems. He sat on his stool behind me, holding an instrument to measure the movement of my vertebrae when he asked me to lean backward. I leaned back and looked at the carpet behind me. He had to take the measurements again because he dropped his tool. He called me a freak. I remember he had the brightest blue eyes I had ever seen. I rather liked him.

I don't have a nudity taboo. I generally don't wander around looking to shock people. I don't own a miniskirt or a pair of Daisy Dukes. I like to sleep in a T-shirt. But otherwise, I tend to think coeducational nudity is a strange thing to get worked up about. And something about wearing a swimsuit in a hot tub is just downright offensive.

I'm twenty-eight and ten years ago I weighed twenty pounds less. And yes, sometime I don't really like that my stomach isn't quite as flat as it used to be. And I have a weak chin, but otherwise I'm quite satisfied with my body. Not because of whether or not society at large finds me acceptable and not because I like what I see when I look in the mirror.

It's because of my hands. It's because I can feel. I can feel the air flowing in and out of my lungs. I can feel my hair through my fingers and the sharp rasp of my fingernails. I can feel the rough texture of warm concrete on my bare feet and the cool, fluidity of water on my ankles. I can feel the warm sun on the back of my neck, the stretch of the muscles in my calves, and the beat of my heart behind my sternum.

And someday it will all stop. Not to be morbid or even sentimental, but it will. And there is no need to glorify this body of mine in the meantime. I know what it feels like to vomit, to be so sick I can barely move, to cringe in pain. I've been very lucky. I've never broken a bone or needed stitches. I've been in the hospital once, but they pumped me so full of drugs that it didn't bother me at all when the doctors discussed the possibility of my throat swelling closed. I once jumped off a moving car, and I remember being scraped and bruised and hurt, but I also remember it didn't slow me down. I've worked so hard everything has quivered and I could barely walk the next day. I've been hit by a car and fallen down the stairs. And someday I'll grow old (buses willing) and die. And I don't know what will happen to me then.

I've heard lots of theories. Heaven, hell, the bardo, the next life, realms of hungry ghosts, worm bait, nothingness. Ten years ago, when I was twenty pounds lighter, that used to worry me. I couldn't stand not knowing, or so it felt. I could think of nothing more frightening than ceasing to exist. Honestly, Buddhism has not offered me an reassurances in that regard, just a competing set of myths that sound a little more palatable to my mind. Still, not to be morbid, or suicidal, or to glorify death, but it isn't that scary anymore. Sure when the axe murder comes I'm going to run like hell, possibly screaming, flooded with adrenalin and probably panicking. Axe murderers are scary. But death...I don't know.

I've been reading about science. Today I found some quotes by a physicist named Richard Feynman. I read a science fiction book which had a character based on him, an artificial intelligence as real as any person I ever knew. (Any fictional person anyway.) A few days ago on NPR they were talking about the "Biology of Belief" and the physiological basis for consciousness. This idea pops up that we are all just meat - walking, talking, thinking, feeling meat wandering around on the surface of a living, seething world that only we are fully conscious of and even then we know how much we are missing. So we're meat and when we die whatever we like to think deep down is us, the miraculous soul, the eternal consciousness, whatever we call it, just stops. And I've been thinking 'So what?'

This isn't nihilism. I honestly want to know. So what? Some people ask 'why' or 'what if' or 'how did,' but I think all I want to know is 'so what?' The physicist said "Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, "But how can it be like that?" because you will get 'down the drain,' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that." I think there is wisdom in that, but it still leaves me with 'so what?' Is that a "down the drain" question, too? He also wondered that "some people say, 'How can you live without knowing?' I do not know what they mean. I always live without knowing. That is easy. How you get to know is what I want to know." He was just as "down the drain" as the rest of us.

I'm not sure I know any more or less. I look down at my lovely hands and think someday they'll be gnarled and old and probably arthritic if what everyone tells me about cracking my knuckles is true. If I live that long. I reflect on the feeling of the keys tapping under my fingers, a feeling I have composed soliloquies to. Maybe my body is just a body, walking around with the biologic seeds of consciousness, a byproduct of evolution the only thing which allows me to think and feel and question. Perhaps it is that same evolution that made me fear death, that drive to live, survival instinct. It's somewhat ironic. For if that is so, it is that same evolution that has brought me to the point where I don't fear it quite so much anymore, despite the fact that I have more questions now and fewer answers.

I think twenty pounds is more than fair trade.

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