Each person says about their own body “this is me,” often not grasping that there’s more to “me” than just that. On the other hand, it’s the only thing that each person sees in the mirror when looking at themselves; it’s the only thing that other people see when they’re looking at me. It’s the only thing that is seen by my near and dear ones who know me like the back of their hands! And even those near and dear ones who observe and know about my habits, my past and my present, my thoughts, the emotions expressed on my face – and what they might mean – these people see only one thing, my underlying substance: my body. Shall we talk about it?
How far back do I remember myself? I don’t remember. I’m not being coy here; I really don’t remember the beginning. While I remember it (“it” shall henceforth be referred to as “my body”), I also don’t remember it! However, of course, I do know for sure that it was when my body was small; at the age of three, it almost died along with me from raw cabbage poisoning. Presumably this cabbage was tasty, although I don’t remember that either. I know of this event only from a story told by my father, who found a tractor in time and managed to deliver my body in a snowstorm (but it was he who recalled it because I have no memory of myself at that age) to the nearest hospital.
Let’s dissect this matter further. Indeed, in Russian, the word “telo” (тело), which means “body,” is neuter in gender and corresponds to the statement “it (neuter) is mine (also neuter),” and I feel that my native language somehow inspires a somewhat dismissive attitude towards my body. Yes, this body is mine, like this computer keyboard, like the computer itself on which my fingers are now tapping out the letters that shape and are shaped by my thoughts. It’s a bit crazy, but I really think that it’s a good example of my understanding of my body and myself.
Now we know – or assume – how I ought to have initially related to my body when I acquired consciousness as I started to become aware of myself.
And now it turned out that I had a frail, weak body! It couldn’t cope with the bullies in kindergarten and primary school. My body didn’t want to pull itself up onto the horizontal bar! And if my body did manage to pull itself up, this was due only to the lack of weight on it. My body didn’t want to gain weight and didn’t want to eat meat for this purpose, being content with only “a little buttery bikkie and a little cuppa tea” (a little buttery biscuit with a bit of sweet tea)! Years passed, but my body didn’t want to play football or skate at all, and it was only thanks to the efforts of my friend Sanka Aleksandrov, during the summer holidays between first and second grade, that my body barely learnt to swim!
Should I say I wasn’t satisfied with my body? No, I don’t recall such a reaction, but I still felt some disappointment in myself because of it. This feeling, by the age of thirteen became so strong, along with the desire to please and possess the opposite sex, that they overcame my innate laziness and forced my body to play sports according to the guidelines of a program published in a youth magazine. Nowadays half of the earth’s inhabitants might not understand how I’ve ultimately managed to forget what I learnt from this magazine. Hey, after all, everything is online! But back then, it wasn’t, at least not for me.
So, I took part in the program, and my body began to pull itself up onto the water pipe that led under the ceiling to the bathroom, improving both performance and results with this exercise! 5…..7……10……….15…….16! Sixteen times! Why were my results stalling? My goal was 25 times! Why was it becoming harder and harder for me to duplicate the results I had already achieved? Yes, I’d been ill with a fever and a cough, but the illness had passed! Only a slight temperature remained, to which I didn’t pay much attention: 37.2 C, but I was coughing entire lung-loads of air! It seemed to me, in my ignorance, that my body would make a full recovery on its own…I was strong and wouldn’t back down…Fifteen times! My body could pull itself up only fifteen times on another day, with my brain (or me) searching for excuses for this. But what? Apparently, the excuses weren’t convincing, so my recollection of them is quite vague: “It’s just a slight setback” or “15 times! Not everyone in school can do this!” But this didn’t satisfy me. What would the outcome be? A high likelihood of my body’s death? And, if so, should I be recognized as the one responsible for its death? Not intentionally, but yes, I was the one, with my ignorance, with my fear of change and fear of someone else’s opinion, who could kill it, as opposed to when I – or my body – had innocently eaten the raw cabbage from which my father had to save me.
Why am I writing about this now? Because in February my entire class underwent a routine fluorography chest X-ray screening, after which my body was admitted to a tuberculosis dispensary with a case of pneumonia in one lung. Even though the illness was detected in time to be treated, this was still due to my, but not my body’s, vanity.
I should be grateful to Sir Alexander Fleming, and I certainly am! Antibiotics brought me back to my old life, and my body increased its performance to twenty-eight pull-ups on the bar, a record not only for the upper grades, but also for the entire school! Despite this, my body still couldn’t stand up for itself in a fight, so my body and I needed someone else to teach us, since we were unable to master this science alone, using the plan that we’d been applying.
I should state here that I believe a person is a combination of spirit (will), mind (reason), and body. Here I am, with my body adjacent to my spirit and my mind; it belongs to my spirit and my mind, and it is mine even when I don’t remember myself! Without it, I am not here; I will not see myself in the mirror; no one will see me with their eyes, although I suspect that God does not use eyes to see. God sees, but not with eyes; we are simply with God. But for our understanding, there is no other concept like the look that makes use of the eyes. What came first: the egg or the chicken? I was born, or my body was born. If the latter is true, I wasn’t born, but rather became, at first a little being, then a name, then an address, then a citizen, and so on. But these are merely trappings assigned to the body. Yet apart from me, my body is only a body that no one needs. Believe me, no one needs your body without you. Even the most beautiful body, like a sexy doll, will become boring without a mind.
Shall we go on? My body learnt how to defend itself quite successfully thanks to its boxing coach. And I thank boxing itself for my understanding of my body. Now, from a distance, from the depths of today, I’m truly sure that my entire (with the same applying to your entire) body is a single entity, one brain, one cumulative “I,” with nerves and nerve endings throughout, all collaborating with me. Yes, they can be torn off, and I will remain, but the part of this entity that was one with me will no longer exist. And without it, without that part, I will not be a whole me even if I quickly become accustomed to the new situation and tolerate it. Upon seeing the other, full-fledged “I” separate from me and glancing at its body, I understand that, over time, I will lose sharpness and become bitter that I am not like it or am ceasing to exist while still living. But what is wrong here? Is this how weak, old people are supposed to feel? losing their bodily functions slowly or all at once? Are we all destined to experience the horror of gradually getting used to helplessness, if even for a short time, a short time that may turn out to be never-ending hell?
My body put a fifty-kilogram bag of flour, taken from the back seat of a car, on my body’s right shoulder and carried this bag up to the second floor, to the apartment where I live. Why is it so hard for me? Why does sweat appear on my forehead? Why am I so weak? Is this my first time carrying bags? Okay, now everything will pass. My body went back down for the second bag, despite the dark dots flying before my eyes, despite the feeling of spreading weakness in my right hand, as if I’d lain on that hand, and now the blood supply was being restored in it. My body then lifted one more bag, the last bag, up to the second floor. Then it managed to walk back down, get into the car, and with the help of its left hand, helped his right hand to shift to first gear to get to the garage.
Now everything will pass. I calmed my body down. I went to piss, calmed down some more, and put the car in the garage. Was there wet snow? I needed to calm down and not step on the gas too hard! I stepped off the palisade. What was it? Did I trip? Anyway, I decided to get up, but why was I tilting to the right side? After all, I rested using both hands! At this point I looked at my right hand. Using my brain, I sensed the ground and continued to rest on it with both hands. But only the right hand lay absolutely motionless, not obeying my commands at all.
I don’t try to imagine it; even now when I close my eyes, I can’t imagine a punch or a right hook the way it should be. Since the stroke, my brain – not me, but my brain – is the one that doesn’t permit me to do this.
I know everything can change, like when I was tired of being weak and when I started wanting to please girls. In fact, everything can change, and everything is possible. It’s not easy. Just never, ever give up!
About the Author
Pavel Paramonov lives near Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, where he works as an occupational safety specialist. He has fulfilled a number of other roles in life, ranging from son, brother, friend, father and grandfather to combine operator, watchman, boxer, agricultural student, telephone operator and general director of a bread and pasta production complex. In his free time, he enjoys cooking, reading, watching historical documentaries and dramas and being in the water. Pavel is a poet, fiction writer and essayist, and his work has been published in Trouvaille Review.