Saturday, August 7, 2010

Four Miles In and One Year Later

Four miles and several hours into the Smokies, at the end of an often steep, exhausting hike we sit at the foot of a waterfall with all the others who, like us, made it this far, kept going despite--and probably in spite of--the heat, the humidity, the unexpected incline, the precarious twists and turns, and the sheer calf-burning labor of stepping over and around the hard, shiny tree roots twisting themselves jagged and claw-like along the path. I once again silently give thanks to the smiling strangers we passed along the way--those on their way down saying it's worth it, keep going, you're almost there, just a little bit longer. My muscles ache, my clothes are soaked with sweat, but I made it. I am here. I lie back on the sun-heated stones and see the trees--their furry pine green and olive bodies arched over and pushed up against the bowl that is the sky.

Yes, I am here.

A year ago at this same time I couldn't yet make it up a flight of stairs. My days were marked by painkillers, naps, fear, nightmares, worry, hyper-vigilance, shock, and the stunned faces of friends coming to visit me for the first time after my heart and its unanticipated detour took us all by surprise.

A year ago, I would have been hard pressed to believe I would once again hike up mountains, that I would go off in the woods and off the grid where my cell phone was nothing more than a useless gadget and doctors were out of reach. But here I am. And I am exactly where I want to be. And though my body is a mystery and though I cannot see the inner workings of my heart or monitor it in the way I can look at the details of my face in the mirror every morning, it is resilient. As I close my eyes and breathe, I am reminded of this again, just as I was reminded that first day I walked into cardiac rehab and stepped on the treadmill and didn't collapse, but met my body at a new intersection and realized it was possible for me to rely on her again. And as I breathe I see myself, my body, in the world--the raw, material flesh of it that is in and of and also itself the world.

"Visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it is caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself. Things are an annex or prolongation of itself; they are incrusted into its flesh, they are part of its full definition; the world is made of the same stuff as the body." *

Visible, I am seen: a body among other mammals seeing, being, feeling, as we rest together at the top of a mountain taking in our rewards. Visible, but paradoxically always invisible to myself too (my insides, my heart, my lungs, the intricate world beneath the skin) I move through and with this invisibility, becoming a circle with myself and the things and others I experience around me--the trees pushing back against the sky, John next to me on rocks, the cadence of the waterfall's notes, a lone cloud drifting past a single, bare-armed tree. And I take these things in, hold them tight, allow them to become part of me in this moment a year later. And, of course, part of me again as I write of that day when back home and on the grid I remember the steps and bodies that brought me to now.

"There is a human body when, between the seeing and the seen, between touching and the touched, between one eye and the other, between hand and hand, a blending of some sort takes place ..." *

Yes, there is a human body when:

(Quotations from Maurice Merleau-Ponty's The Primacy of Perception)

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