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: