I remember when you once told me about the tip of the blade, where to put it just before you start the cut, and why you have to keep the edge sharp and always carry the whetstone. It was not a fun job, you told me, but it had to be done fast or else the natural process of decay would foul the meat. There was a lot more to the hunt than stalking alone through the woods at dawn. There were, you told me, important responsibilities. A clean kill was one. You told me there was no need for prolonged suffering and you taught me where to put the arrow so that death would come quick. That’s another thing you said. There’s no sport in shooting anything with a gun; which I thought was strange coming from a man who carried one always. The knife, you told me, is an extension of the hand, an extension of the brain. You open the belly from its ass to its throat. The gut sack slides out nice and easy but you better be damn sure you don’t puntcture the bowels. All men need to know where their meat comes from, you said more than once. That Styrofoam tray of shrink-wrapped chuck. The inside of a slaughterhouse is a place you don’t want to know. But you should. We don’t really need the meat, you said. But we need the hunt so you’ll know the true price.
What is the body? Not us. What is the soul?
I can only see the one. With the body I can only perceive the body. There are, everywhere and all the time, reports of their cessations. The lives of bodies. The deaths. We are fascinated and obsessed with the manner their cessation. The context, the story. We chart the courses of bodies and follow their trajectories like stars. What happens to bodies is among the greatest of our concerns. Shapes, growth, condition. We know what they are made of, we know how they come into being and develop over this thing called time. We know they are fragile. We know they will eventually expire, and cease to function as mechanisms containing lives. Is the body the life? Or is the life contained within the body? We know almost nothing.
We cannot say what life is beyond a biological definition. A functional summary. As if the living are merely machines. We cannot say what death is beyond an extension of that same definition. We are either meat machines who, as individuals, spring into being at inception and cease at bodily cessation, or we are spirit, beyond explanation, and occupying this strange housing, an ecosystem, a portable compact universe for a time; and as such creating time.
If the mind, and by extension, that nebulous part of us we call the soul, is finite and bound to an animate corpse born of nucleic acids and random pairs of protein bonds, formed and fed by time and places and experience, then we are only bodies. Intelligent bodies, flesh exhalted, lucky evolutionary freaks. Then what matters?
But if the body is not us, if we transcend blood and bone and are more than a complex interaction between chemicals and electricity, then what matters?
These are not the questions I was asking myself this morning as I went out with Walt for a run. But I found myself asking them, again, when he ran off into the woods and would not come when I whistled. Dogs will be dogs but he always comes when I call. Unless there’s meat.
The culprit was a fresh kill, a spectacular example of the life and death of the body, and here it was on full display, an anatomy lesson spread out on the grass. A young doe, bedded down for the night sprung upon by a pack of wild dogs (could this have been a mountain lion? Perhaps, but it doesn’t matter). The story was written in the flattened grass as neat and plain as a picture book for kids. Circle of life. Carnivorous apex predator takes vegatarian down the food chain. Wild Kingdom writ small. Twenty yards from a suburban back yard. Keep an eye on your kitties and small dogs. Move along.
But I didn’t move along. I looked. And it isn’t macabre fascination that draws me to this, it’s an ever-increasing recognition of the illusion of the body as materially relevant. As relevant at all, except as a vehicle for the spirit, a means to perform but one function during its span of so-called life – to love.
I am no longer horrified by this fragility. I am no longer terrified by the rending of flesh. Blood and bone do not disgust me. The state of bodies in death does not repel me. I fear not the end of this form. The fingers tapping this keyboard exist only to connect with you, brother, sister, they are means of communion brutally distorted by fear, over eons, producing this illiusion that this life is all there is. This visible life.
The eyes of the body are accomplished liars. But they are capapble of being reformed. Don’t turn away. Look. Come and see. I am not what I appear to be. And either are you.
o O o