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April 8, 2008
Madeline's anatomy books were on the dining room table, and I thought I'd take a look at what she's learning these days. One of them was opened to a transparency plate of the neck. I lifted one rendering from atop another, going deeper and deeper into the structures of bone and soft tissue. I lifted another, and there were the structures of vocalization. The throat swept up toward the mouth and became the base of the tongue. I could see upwards into the nasal cavities. It was as if I myself were in a tiny ship, traveling along these mysterious pathways. There were canals and rivers, walls and arches, grand, inviting corridors, mysterious tunnels.

Those are photographs, you know, her mom said. Isn't that something?

Photographs? That couldn't be, could it? That's really the way we look? There was something so cathedral-like about the elements beneath the skin, something so architectural about the tendons, the arrangement of bones, the rhythmic rows of muscles, the precise grace of their joining, one to another.

I love the anatomical charts at the doctor's office, and always study them while I'm waiting. But they are drawings; I have always assumed that a certain artistic license prevails in the anatomical drawing business. These photographs were something different: life itself pulsed through them, but it was life ordered so elegantly, living structures so brilliantly fitted, each for its own remarkable role.

Medical people learn young what most of us only grasp as we get older and things start breaking down: this body of ours is miraculous. Even after a lifetime of our ignoring its needs and taking its beauties for granted, it faithfully remains, finding ways to do the complex things it does, even in the face of the considerable obstacles we throw in front of it. Its faithfulness fills me with something that can only be called love, and also with a certain amount of repentance. I wish I had taken you more seriously, I say silently, stroking my own thigh, feeling my own throat, taking my own faithful pulse.
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