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A Body of Flesh and Blood

I ran past our local cemetery a few months ago just as a funeral was taking place. A large group gathered around a flower-covered casket. Women folded their arms or held solemn babies on their hips; men stood, straight backed, arms extended downwards -- forming Vs in front of them.

My labored breathing and steady footfalls felt loud and intrusive – out of place and inappropriate – at such a somber event.

I tried to go by quickly. Tried not to distract. Tried not to seem disrespectful. . . . Tried not to stare.

But I couldn't pull my eyes fully from the scene. I didn't know the age of the one whose passing the mourners were marking. I didn't know if he or she had lived out a full life or died prematurely. I only knew that the living done by that mortal body had come to an end. . . .

And there I was: feeling the full weight of breathing, moving, and living. I was running: my lungs filling forcefully with air, my legs burning form the strain of a hill, the neuroma on my left foot sending up stabs of needle-like pain, my skin feeling the warmth of one of the first spring-like days in months, my eyes watering as they always do when assaulted by even a bit of wind.

I couldn't ignore the contrast of being so aware of my physical body just as another’s was being laid carefully into the ground.

For a minute, I completely understood why we humans do all of the crazy things we do with our bodies – why we are sometimes wild, careless, extreme, and even reckless in what we willfully choose to experience. I understood why anyone would ever choose to climb Mt. Everest or bungee jump off the Verzasca Dam.

I understood why we test the limits of our self control through fasting and diet; why we overindulge. I understood why I had ever wanted to run a marathon or experience the rather terrifying pain of natural childbirth.

I even understood why some might do foolish and toxic things simply to feel the aliveness – the rush and exhilaration that these bodies can feel.

But mostly, I understood that it is a tremendous gift (as well as a tremendous responsibility) to have a physical body – to feel what it can feel; to experience what it can experience.

It certainly doesn't always feel like a gift. Our bodies are subject to sickness and injury, and in what sometimes feels worse, to imbalances that cause us severe depression or anxiety. “Blessed” is the last thing I feel when I’m awake with a head cold and sore throat for the fifth night in a row, and sometimes the sheer number of things that can go wrong with these bodies of ours is enough to make one feel like accepting them was a bit like accepting the gift of the Trojan horse.

But it is not. The things we are experiencing with these mortal bodies or ours? They are amazing. They are experiences that an entire THIRD of our brothers and sisters in heaven will never know or understand. They are tremendous enough that a slew of spirits once begged Christ to cast them into the bodies of swine rather than force them back to their bodiless state.

We get to smell lilacs in the spring, and feel the warm winds of summer on our skin. We get to run, feel a baby grow and thrive inside us; nurse that baby and smell its downy head close to us. At the risk of sounding too bold – we get to experience the incomparable connection of sex with our spouse. We get to enjoy flavor and eating. We get to know what the hug of a parent feels like and what tears of joy taste like.

We don’t all experience the same things with these physical bodies, and some of us experience far more pain than others, but I think when we look back on this mortal journey – when we rejoice that we were brave enough to choose this path; when we see the end from the beginning and are all filled up with all we learned through our joys and sorrows, the physical things we experienced and learned with these bodies of ours will not be the least of our most treasured and precious moments.

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Nancy Harris descended from a long line of theater and English professors. While she was surprised to find her own passion lying more in the sciences, she still tries to embrace her "art" genes through writing about and photographing her life with six small kids. Read more at A Chicken in the Window Well.

photos by Nancy Harris and family

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