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My Valentine, my body, my self

A belated Valentine to the body

4 minute read
Picasso's 'Girl in the Mirror': Now you're nearly someone else.
Picasso's 'Girl in the Mirror': Now you're nearly someone else.
I once knew someone who eventually became a swami. That is, he went to India and returned a certified holy man.

"We are not our bodies," this swami would intone in his vaguely omniscient, prescient way.

In those days I didn't really understand what that meant. Wasn't there actually a book back then entitled Our Bodies, Ourselves?

We were once healthy young animals, sleek and supple. We had energy. We had plans. We had hopes. We had dreams. Exercise was ecstasy. Sex was as natural to us as eating and sleeping and breathing. Politics was not.

We assumed we'd live forever. We believed doctors and hospitals were silly. We believed drugs were bad, unless they were good. We believed growing old entailed endless complaining.

We never thought about betrayals of the body. We couldn't imagine wrinkles. Or sags. Or bags. Or lines. Or pouches. Or plastic surgery. Or vacations. Or major illness. Or even divorce.

We loved our cats or our dogs or our cars, as if they too would live forever. Little did we know.

First funeral


Life was a continuous now, a gift, a constant present (in both senses of the word) where everything was wonderful, even when it wasn't.

Then we attended the first funeral of a friend. Someone our age. Someone who died in an accident. It was unthinkable, and we were shocked. Maybe we nursed a parent, a relative, a friend, a pet, through one illness crisis after another.

Overnight, we grew up. We "matured." We met friends of friends with AIDS. Someone knew someone who died of cancer.

Someone else knew someone who had a heart attack. Even though they ran, played tennis, took vitamins. Someone else went to the doctor for what they thought was a persistent cold and got a quadruple bypass instead. Go figure.

We attended more funerals. Memorial services. Friends, parents, loved ones. Sometimes we wept. We "made accommodations." Soon, we were the only ones "left" of our family.

Addicted to Blockbuster

We felt vulnerable. We feared we were next. We fended off the inappropriate sentiments like, "Why are you so upset? You knew they were going to die."

We thickened our skin and strengthened our resolve. We grew terrified that something would happen to us or anyone we cared about. But we tried not to worry. We watched too much TV, grew addicted to Blockbuster or NetFlix, over-ate, drank to excess, medicated ourselves with this pill or that for this mood or that.

We tried to detach. We tried not to feel. We preferred not to think. We wanted to "chill."

"¨Maybe we fell in love with someone who got sick. They had tests. They had treatments. They had procedures. They had operations. Maybe they became chronically ill. But since we weren't married, no one we knew bothered to be really sympathetic or supportive, because unless you were a legally married couple, your unsanctioned relationship obviously didn't count, right? How could you grieve if you weren't an actual widow or widower?

Like an old museum

Think of a new house. In the beginning, everything's perfect. New roof, new furnace, new appliances. The years pass, bringing cracks, leaks, floods. Well, you can still sell a house, as is, even make a profit on it.

But the person— well, maybe you can remember what you both were like when you were younger. Now, you're different, nearly someone else. You're each other's museums. You carry that slide-show in your head, forever: what you were both like once, back when you were young and in love with each other, real human beings who laughed and cried and felt.

Here's a Valentine to the body. Late but sincere. I miss you.


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