Escaping the body trap

When I stepped out this stiff blue morning, my eyes were drawn to the sky.  A plane crossed close overhead and I could see windows, doors, and numbers on the tail; so near it seemed I could touch its silver side.   I pondered its power, magic, beauty, and the distant places it would touch. But, despite that intimacy, I could not affect it in any way. I could not connect to it, move it, change it or appreciate the airship’s journey. I was trapped on the ground as it raced across the sky.

As I move through life, my body changes. My skin is no longer pure, but scarred by ten thousand sunny days and a thousand insults. My hair thins as hormones deplete. Muscle mass wastes, despite exercise and careful diet. Perhaps there is a tremor. I can no more stop these changes then I can reach up in the morning air and hold that plane still. My body is racing through life, toward unknown places, and I am a passenger on that voyage. I am trapped in this body, along for the ride.

How we understand and cope with the body trap is a core drive that molds the people we become and the lives we live.  Each person’s solutions to the existential cage, how we avoid insanity in the face of biological slavery, define us.  The fact that, occasionally, we are able to find joy, satisfaction, wisdom and peace, is one of life’s great truths and perhaps man’s greatest creation.  Unable to change the flight of life, we define its meaning.

Our solutions are so myriad as to fill tomes, which would stack to the stars.  They include every vocation and avocation, every religion, every art, every relationship of every type, every goal, every sport, every field of academic study, every design or creation and even the friends, lovers and pets we chose.

Nonetheless, I suggest that the basic ideas are simple.  First, and perhaps foremost, we are social beings. By sharing and connecting, even at the most casual level, we are able to leave our bodies, step out of the box as it were, and enter into a broader, freer and perhaps emotionally safer world. The time we share together, in any setting, is not just about tasks and necessity, it makes us more secure and alive.  This is a primal need, but we spend so much time squabbling over the ridiculous, and causing each other pain, that it is easy to miss that we desperately need each other.

Balancing the need we have for connection is the need to be alone. During this healing time we reflect, settle our minds, ponder, learn, and grow.  Before an intense social event, we are excited and drawn to the coming stimulation, craving that contact, but we get to a point of saturation where we yearn for quiet and the chance to reconstruct and rediscover ourselves as individuals.

Finally, we achieve balance between hermitic isolation and cultish community, by creating value and meaning. We are driven to feel that we are of worth.  How we do this is different for each of us and it is these choices that fill the tomes. Perhaps we get satisfaction by cooking food for others, thereby creating both art and sustenance, serving our personal and social needs. Perhaps we give our time to the community. Maybe we put everything into our work, creating, building, and at the same time improving life around us. The range of possibilities is infinite and personal, but in the end, creating a purpose for our lives is vital.

The body trap starts to close in, becoming critical and overwhelming, when we are ill.   As we feel corporeal frailty, practicing immortal denial becomes difficult. Every ache and pain reminds us of the rusting steel of our cage. Then, because we are physically weak, being social is difficult and we gradually are alone.  Others pull away from our disease and we lose vital connection. Finally, as our lives become isolated and we feel pinches closing on frail flesh, we lose purpose.  Meaning fades.

When we or someone for whom we care is threatened by illness, there is great healing in helping to maintain connection, keeping control and dignity, and preserving purpose.  When these things are lost, so are we.  On the other hand the touch of a hand, warm company with idle gossip, helping someone to maintain a hobby or simply being in a place that is special, such as the sunlit porch in the home, gives comfort, because it gives meaning.

We never, at least during the living years, fully escape the flesh and sinew that carry us on.   However, I have seen many patients find peace, healing and hope, because a nurse, friend or doctor sits by a sickbed, that I know there is great power in human relationships and in each mind.  We deserve the chance to go through our entire lives connected to each other, at peace with ourselves, and assured we are of value.

A sane person accepts that he shall never touch that airplane in its arch across a dawning azure sky.  Than I am mad, because as long as there is breath in my body, I am going to try.


  • patricia
    I love your observations. Now in my 70's, I am aware of the rusting of the body and long for stamina that now eludes me. Life is all about relationships...with God, family, friends. Grandchildren remind us that once we were young and invincible. Staying connected is the key. Thank you for writing this.
  • meyati
    Thank you.
  • DebRN
    Just lovely. I am thinking of my father. At 88, he has just been moved into AL because of the advance of Parkinson's. All of us "kids" re making moves to connect though we are hours away. Thank you for inspiring me. And Merry Christmas!
  • Very nice meditation! We all need to come to terms with the fact that our life has a term limit - whatever that will eventually be.
  • Ray
    As Dee and I move through her difficult times I have noticed a tendency for her to become more isolated. Reading this has encouraged me to resist this and get on with life, starting with Christmas Decorations and Cards that we considered skipping this year. Thank you again for all your council, both in the office and thru these blogs
  • Liz
    Some of the fip side of what you say is that getting old is also about giving up some of the things you used to do, because you no longer can no matter how much you want to and then learning how not to let that depress you… I think that filling your days with doing things that give you pleasure, no matter what limited universe of things they are, is what matters...
  • IBS
    You're absolutely correct, Dr.S, but I also feel all doctors in fields such as yours, it is just as important for Oncologists to take off also and to talk to a professional too. If possible, during lunch, go up to the newborn dept., hold a new life in your arms. It's such a beautiful feeling to do so, and will and no matter whose child it is, the feeling is the same: pure love. It flows through one's body. The stress immediately leaves.

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