“I am not my body. My body is nothing without me.” ― Tom Stoppard, Rock ‘n’ Roll
There are times, when I look at myself in the mirror, that I don’t know who I’m looking at. I bite my lip, and the stranger in the mirror bites hers. I close one eye, and she winks back. I hold my breath, she holds hers, and we wait for each other’s will to break.
Sometimes, I see myself, my body, and it feels like a stranger is looking back at me. A stranger but a kindred spirit. I trace my fingers across the scars. I feel the silky smooth skin, sunken into the flesh. I feel nerve endings trying to make connections across severed lines. I feel the muscles ripple and shiver. Those are my fingers, I know they are, but they’re tracing the lines on someone else’s body.
No, it is my body and I feel it, but it still seems foreign.
I’m standing there, all alone. It’s just me and my reflection but it still feels like it’s not my body. It feels like I’m an invisible entity, standing off to the side, watching the movements of those fingers, seeing the affects they have on the skin. A head tilt. A furrowed brow. The invisible me is curious but detached.
It’s an odd sensation. Not a terrifying one. I’m not afraid of what I see or feel. It’s a little uncomfortable but that discomfort isn’t bothersome. Maybe it should be. Maybe I should be afraid of it but, no, it’s a curiosity inside one of those old circus tents. A traveling freak show? Is that what they were called? I don’t like that comparison any more than I like those tents. Those people, in the real-life tents, deserved a hell of a lot better.
But that’s a conversation for a different day.
When someone asks me about my life, or I’m telling my story, I feel an odd sense of detachment from that as well. It’s not like it happened to someone else. I don’t feel like I’m watching a movie and spoiling the storyline. It happened to me, I’m very well aware, but it kinda feels like it happened in a different life. Like I’m doing some past life regressions. Is that what it’s called? No idea, and I don’t know if any of this makes sense or if I’m being an obscure oddball?
I suppose both can be true.
I’m sure there’s some psychological term for what’s going on and I could spend five minutes googling it. The name, the diagnosis, isn’t important for this conversation. It serves very little purpose, for me, other than adding a label to a box. I have enough labeled boxes in my attic and I’m not sure I can fit one more so let’s leave this one for another day.
This phenomenon has brought up an interesting question for me and that’s: Who am I if I’m not my reflection? My scars? My illness? My past? My Story? I’ve been asking myself these questions a lot over the last few months. I’ve been trying to redefine myself or, at the very least, challenge my internal dialogue. A measure of self-exploration that I hope will help me find a more settled, balanced, life.
Are we all defined by our most dramatic moments, appearances, or life experiences? We’re all so quick to try and put each other, and ourselves, in boxes with pretty labels. It makes us feel safer when we can clearly identify the people we come across. It makes us feel safer to have a definition of ourselves because it’s easier to find others who are like us.
It brings a sense of belonging. Isn’t that a universal need, desire, craving?
I’ve defined myself, been defined by others, by my chronic illnesses. I’m a kidney patient, a transplant recipient, and a survivor of multiple cardiac arrests. These scars on my body are my badges of honour. They prove that I’ve walked through hell, and I’ve survived death. That’s who I am. I’m not ashamed of who I am because it’s my story.
I just want my story to be more complex, vibrant, and a little more silly. Why so serious? No idea. Despite my best efforts, my life has been pretty serious and I want a bit more variety.
I have no idea what that is. I’m fresh out of ideas. No clue. Not even the foggiest. What will be my “more” and how will that define me? I can’t even begin to picture it and the thought of having another definition added, makes me cringe. I don’t think I want another definition, another labeled box, but I don’t want the boxes I’ve collected to become the sum of who I am.
Or, is that all ready predestined?
I have to be more than this body I inhabit. This shell of a human. A physical representation of something more complex. It’s not who I am but, at the same time, it is exactly who I’ve become. I am my body but what is my body without me?
Without my soul or spirit, if we have to give it a name, my body is nothing more than a reflection of who I was. Oh, but now I’m inching my way into something that’s a bit morbid. Sorry about this. Hold on tight. I’ll get through it as quickly as I can.
Ready or not…
Have you ever seen a dead body? A human body. Let’s be clear. This is no time to spin the wheels. Have you ever seen a dead, human, body? An open casket, for example. There they are, lying in repose, and it’s a bit surreal. Or, was that just my interpretation? You look down at someone you used to know but that person isn’t there anymore. What made them, them, is gone and what’s left is nothing more than a memory.
My grandmother passed away several years ago. We were very close. I adored her and we spent a lot of hours together. Drinking tea, eating cherries, and talking about everything or nothing. She was someone I’d call a kindred spirit, and that’s not a term used very often. It’s not often you find someone who so clearly mirrors who you are.
After she passed, I sat by her bed and looked at her face. She was smiling. A tiny little smirk. She was the picture of peace. I stared at her for a very long time. I wanted to memorize every little detail of her face so that I wouldn’t forget what she looked like. I was worried that if I forget her face I would forget her, but that was silly.
Whenever I think of her, I struggle to picture her face but I clearly hear her voice saying, “Hi Luv.” I hear her laughing, as if she was standing next to me. I remember the stories she told me. I remember the way her long fingers knitted blankets for newborn babies. I remember how safe she made me feel. How loved I felt when she smiled at me and the light in her eyes when she told me she loved me. I remember her, the person she was, but her body has quickly become a faded photograph.
Why? Simply put, she was not her body and, once she was gone, her body was no longer who she was. Her body was never who she was. I’m sure she was defined a hundred different ways by everyone that met her. Mother, grandmother, nurse, friend. But who she was, went so far beyond the person we all saw. That image didn’t determine her character. Her character far exceeded any definition our limited imaginations could conjure.
I can see that in her, I can see that in you, but I’m struggling to see it in myself. Can I be more than a diagnosis? Can I be more than knees that won’t bend or a heart that won’t keep its rhythm? Can I be more than the pills I take or the doctor’s appointments? Can I be more than a limited definition of what a disabled person can or should be?
If you asked me these questions, I’d say without hesitation that you can be whoever you decide you want to be. That power is yours. You aren’t your body, diagnosis, or any other label the world wants to pin on you. You are more than all of those things. I see so much potential in you, and I hope you see it in yourself.
When I ask myself those questions? Well, there’s a kindness that we’re able to extend to others, but when it comes to ourselves? Kindness is harder to find.
One day, I’ll stand in front of that mirror and my two halves will come together. Logic and emotion will realign. Not only will I know, without any doubt or reservation, that I’m more than my body but I’ll feel it in my soul. A kindred spirit of sorts? Without which, neither body nor mind can exist.