The Miracle of a Body

SolsticeNew Years Eve; outside, a dramatic sunset. The weather has turned chilly and damp, almost seasonal, and there are finally a few inches of snow on the ground. This evening we will visit with friends, bringing in the New Year with games, food, and a good fire.

I began writing this in daylight and must turn on the lights in order to finish. The New Year comes about ten days after the solstice. By now, the days are perceptibly longer, and the sun, and the year, seem renewed. Even so, most nights darkness falls well before five.

We ran errands this morning, then came home. I had leftover pizza for lunch, a delicious return to the luscious dinner Jennie created last evening. Then, being cold, I wrapped up in an electric blanket and fell asleep. I slept off and on for most of the afternoon. I had planned to spend the afternoon in the studio, but never made it. One of the odd side affects of Post Polio is cold, and often heat, sensitivity. When the cold settles in my body aches, and just wants to hibernate.

I am aware that we are nearing the end of the Christmas season, a time focused on the body, on the act of incarnation. This season I have been appreciating this body, and its willingness to carry me through the world. I know this has not  been easy for my body or my spirit. I can barely remember what it felt like to live in a body without paralysis, weakness, and pain. These few memories are felt mostly felt experiences of a body at ease with the world, a body that readily responded to my needs and desires, and the challenges and pleasures, of the world. Those experiences are both immediate and distant, grounded in days that are now removed from the present by more than sixty years.  Still, they form the backdrop for my lived experience, for my understanding of incarnation.

One of my colleagues speaks to being “temporarily abled”, a state that is almost inevitably transitory. We live in a culture that worships the young, able body, and recoils in terror from the disabled one. Many times in my life I have imagined myself to be a ghost, vacillating between being visibly and shunned, and invisible and ignored. Perhaps being Native and disabled makes me doubly erased, a condition I can challenge in the studio, or by writing, as each allows a sort of visual passing; what is seen is a record of my activity, a record from which the immediacy of my body is largely absent.

There are times when, temporarily seeing myself as I imagine others see me, I find myself at war with this body. In such moments my disability becomes a burden, and all compassion, let alone gratitude, for it disappears. At such moments I forget that this “I” that I am owes everything to this body’s willingness, and determination, to continue.

I try to remind myself that incarnation is a great gift, a present only possible in a body. I also strive to remember that bodies do not disable us, other people create the conditions that disable us. This is not to say that our attitudes towards life are not also disabling. It is, however, an acknowledgement that disability is a condition imposed largely by the gaze and behaviors of others. The shame we feel arises from the dismissive responses of those around us, responses all to easily internalized as foundational truths about our being.

I believe the Christmas season is an evolving text about the relationship between embodied self and the wider world. It is an exploration of the deep reciprocity inherent in incarnation, and the moral imperatives implied in the gift of a body. We live via the breath and deaths of others. Our lives are inevitably relational, and our actions impacting innumerable others, whose movements through the world shape our lives. Christmas reminds us that the birth of each child, no matter the species, is a miracle, through which the world is renewed, and hope rekindled, and that our task in life is to nurture the potential of all beings, if only to care for our own.

As the days lengthen may we give thanks for the generosity of our bodies, and the tens of billions of beings, within and without, who sustain them. May we remember that we can do nothing without the aid of our unfathomably complex bodies, and that ideas of self-sufficiency are at root illusion. May we show compassion and gratitude to our bodies, and to all who share this life with us, even in those inevitable times when we find ourselves in keen conflict with them.

In this vein, let me acknowledge my debt to you, dear reader, for without your kind attention to my writing this venture would be a poor one indeed. I wish for you, and yours, a joyous and healthy New Year. May you find receptive audiences for your work and life, and find yourself held tightly and safely by love.


34 thoughts on “The Miracle of a Body

  1. Highly reflective post Michael. We do need to remember that our mind would not be functionel without our body, as long we are in an incarnation at our earth. No matter, how much we can wish for better health and so, we are depending on our body.
    Wish you and Jennie Happy New Year and wish you all the best for the new year 🙂

      1. I don’t know how to tell you it has appeared in this comment too! I sent you an email a while back-did you receive it? I think basically it is just the ‘ratings’ at the start of the comment. For some reason when I’m on my IPad it appears like a link. Nothing to worry about.

  2. What a beautiful post, filled with melancholic wisdom. The miraculous gift of a body is something that most of us take for granted until it malfunctions, breaks or wears out. We never really appreciate what we have until it’s gone….whether temporarily or permanently… seems we are such shallow creatures at heart! Yet what we seek is pleasure, so of course the instinct is to avoid pain, both in ourselves and others.
    Having been following you for a couple of years now I had no idea that you were physically disabled….and as you say that’s the joy of writing or painting… bypasses the physical. Thanks so much for sharing this deep and intimate post. I now know you just a little more✨💕✨

    1. Hi GreenMackenzie! Yes, my disability is physical and stems from Polio. What a strange virus! It keeps changing one’s body long after the initial phase. Then there are often lasting emotional affects from the trauma of the illness and the treatments…..Anyway, I loved “melancholic wisdom”! I have not thought about the post in those terms, and can see how true your phrase is…..

      1. It sounds as though life is continual adventure with all that shifting and changing in the body Michael. You are an inspiration with your hard won wisdom😊

  3. Such profound insights, Michael, and as always, eloquently said. “… bodies do not disable us, other people create the conditions that disable us. This is not to say that our attitudes towards life are not also disabling. It is, however, an acknowledgement that disability is a condition imposed largely by the gaze and behaviors of others. The shame we feel arises from the dismissive responses of those around us, responses all to easily internalized as foundational truths about our being.”

    One of the things I discovered when I worked on housing policy alternatives for elders was the importance of the built environment we have created. The very structures present unnecessary challenges – steps, heavy doors, suburbs and private modes of transportation. The alternative for many are institutional settings that isolate and humiliate as you so movingly describe.

    Thank you for sharing crucial reflections that remind us to be mindful and grateful for the unique gifts we gain through our corporeal positionality.

    Sending blessings to you in this new year 🙂

    1. Hi Carol, Thank you. Yes, the built environment can support or disable. Still, there is often great resistance to modifying the built environment. I often find that to be odd.
      It is indeed good to have a body!

  4. Ah!! Michael…I can so relate to this post…able/disable…they go hand in hand. I think for me the hard part has been never really knowing how to “manage” it. I have put myself down for “doing too much” or is it “not enough” when in reality….it just is what it is!! Thank you for sharing with us, and I hope that the times of ability edge out the other 🙂 May you experience a year of many blessings ❤

    1. Thank you Lorrie! Yes, there is always that question of who’s yard stick to use for measuring one’s “doing” or not doing. Disability is both real, and a fiction. I believe that we are most disabled by the expectations and behaviors of others, although we may add to the problem. When we can honor our innate abilities, we can create breathing room, and space for creativity and joy. These are arenas you share with us on a regular, and much appreciated basis. May they only grow!

      1. Thank you so much, Michael. Your words are so kind and they mean the world to me. I sometimes wonder whether I should share certain things…and in the end I go with whatever is in my heart…Live and die by the heart…yes! I like it 😉 I send you so many blessings ♡

      2. Lorrie, I struggle with the politics of the net. There is so much that demands to be said, and yet one never knows how the real writing will be received. I guess one has to take risks and try to gather together some courage.

      3. I agree, Michael. In the end, if it feels right to share in my heart I gather my courage and press send. I have never had regrets 🙂 Blessings my friend!

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