Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Love Letter to my Body

This letter is part of the SheLoves magazine synchroblog here.

Dear Body,

So, the assignment is to write you a love letter. I'm not sure I can do it. Perhaps the best I can manage is a grudging acceptance letter. But here goes.

For a long time now, probably since my teens, I've dealt with insecurities about how you look by thinking of you in purely functional terms. You're healthy and strong, you can eat anything, you get me where I need to go, you can do a 5K (walking, not running, but still). So I have a "not appealing to look at, but useful" paradigm. My hands may not look like the perfectly manicured visions of loveliness my students' moms (or my students themselves) carry around, but mine can use chopsticks and type extremely fast and make a perfect cup of tea. You can extrapolate from that hands example to how I see some of my less public body parts.

Sometimes I wonder why God chose to put these beautiful souls of ours into bodies. They (you, all of you bodies) complicate matters so much. No offense, Body, but it's true. You get tired. You have hormones, which affect behavior more than I'd like. And there's all that business about how to clothe and adorn you, finding the impossible balance between being attractive enough and drawing too much attention to oneself, thus becoming a source of temptation. I remember a friend sharing with me that her husband had told her that some women caused temptation not only by how they dressed, but even by the way they did their hair. That's a lot of responsibility for a body, isn't it? And different Christian communities I've been a part of in my life hold different views of what is and is not acceptable. We have to think about what to feed you, too, so you don't get too fat or too thin or too unhealthy. And no matter how well we maintain you, you get sick. You get old. You die. You, Body of mine, will die some day.

But then I remember that Jesus took on flesh. He had a body. He didn't have a woman's body, but He was born of one; He had a placenta and a belly button and He nursed at His mother's breasts. He wasn't some ethereal spirit alone, not just a beautiful soul, but fully human, with a respiratory system and a blood type and hair and fingernails that grew and had to be cut. He had appetites.

But I'm avoiding the topic here, Body, because it's easier to talk in general terms and philosophize than it is to talk about us, you and me, the particularities of our love/hate relationship. I have to admit that when I think about you, there are many negative images that come to mind, times you've let me down, embarrassed me, shamed me. Years of P.E. classes, when I was awkward and uncoordinated and couldn't do any of the things that it seemed everyone else did effortlessly. Puberty. Acne. Dressing to hide you. Bathing suits. Your clumsiness that caused me accidents and injuries. And, I hate to bring this up, because I know it technically isn't your fault, but I guess I do blame you for the loss of my second child, who died at eight weeks gestation. You failed me. You didn't hold on to that tiny daughter (even though I don't even know she was a daughter), whom I already loved.

There are positives too, though, Body. It helps that I have a husband who's been appreciating you a lot for almost 23 years now. He doesn't care that you're getting older and saggier, either; He seems to like you more now than when I was 21.

And oh, Body, here's where I can use the word Love, capitalized, with hearts and flowers: you carried my babies, my beautiful children. Even though you were sick and miserable through those pregnancies, you carried them, and you birthed them without drugs, and you were amazing. Truly amazing. That husband I just mentioned was completely in awe of you, of us, and what we did, body and soul. And then you nourished those babies, you made them fat on your milk and nurtured them for - well, let's just say for longer than the average American baby breastfeeds. You were a miracle.

For those kids, Body, I'll forgive you a multitude of sins. The parts that are too big, too jiggly, too stretch-marked, the galumphing, the fall down the stairs that broke my leg (and by the way, that leg still hurts quite often, thank you, more than fifteen years later). Your whiteness - yes, I've always used the image of a creature who's been living under a rock to describe how pale you seem to me, compared with the beautiful dark skin of those I grew up with and those I now live among, as a child in Africa and now as an adult in Haiti. I've always wanted to be black, like them.

Body, you're the one I've got, for better or worse. I know what size you are, give or take. I know what styles you can't ever wear. I know how careful you have to be to wear the right shoes, to avoid pain. I know your patterns and cycles. I know you can't see without glasses, and even though the optometrist got my hopes up years ago about how you might get to stop wearing glasses in your forties as you got more far-sighted, I know now that's not ever going to happen. I know you'll react to a TB skin test, because you had that BCG vaccination in England as a teenager, and I know how health care providers in the US freak out at that. You've had dengue fever and you've been anemic and you've downed years worth of antimalarials. You've done a long bike trip and you've hiked many miles and you've survived an earthquake, although you still react independently of me to noises and movement, and you still catch me off guard every time.

And let's face it, Body, now's the time. If I don't appreciate you now, as I didn't when I was younger, what am I going to do when you age even more? We've passed forty, you know; it's all probably downhill from here.

Can I say that I love you? It feels a little embarrassing, doesn't it? And yet, I'm at home with you now, more than I used to be. I enjoy good food, and sunshine on my shoulders (yep, it makes me happy), and the feel of people I love in my arms. I couldn't experience any of those things without you. And I have a daughter now who looks just like me, and she's beautiful, so I can't insult you the way I used to.

OK then, I'll say it. I love you. I do. Thanks for everything. Hope we have many, many more years together.



Jessica said...

Ruth, this is fabulous, especially the part at the end. It is hard not to think about our bodies in only negative ways.

Janet said...

This made me cry, Ruth. Beautiful.

Meg said...

Beautiful Ruth! The fact that you used the word 'galumphing' made my day. Thank you for participating

Anonymous said...

I want to reach out and give you a great big hug!! I love this post, especially your words about Jesus as a babe and birthing your own babies. Our bodies are amazing.