Growing up I was the kid who played with worms. I never minded getting or being dirty. Living on a farm meant there were many duties that involved the grosser side of life - these never bothered me. When I was 12 I helped birth a lamb by sticking my hand (and half my arm) up the business end of a ewe. It wasn't the last time. In high school, I took advanced biology which composed of a semester of dissecting many, many animals, including a cat. Which I skinned, stripped the fascia from, identified each muscle and eventually cut into to see the inner workings. In college I worked with eyeballs, frogs, and did kidney surgery on a rat - who, by the way, did swimmingly well through the surgery but fell prey to the open festering wound on its back which I cultured and discovered to be a nasty strain of staph. Throughout my life, as animals and were sick, I was the one to investigate. I've long contemplated the mysteries of digestion and the ability for the body to turn multiple colors into one solid hue. I've always been the one in my family to examine, clean, prod, squeeze and bandage suspicious wounds. I'm also responsibly for the success of shows like "the woman with the 400 pound tumor" and "born without a face" - I just can't get enough of that stuff.
I guess what I'm saying is that my gross-out factor is low.
And my fascination with living creatures and how they work is high.
So when I heard the Bodies Revealed exhibit was coming to my very own Union Station, I was quite pleased. This description of the display taken from their website only increased my desire to go.
These Exhibitions--which feature actual human specimens--allow people of all ages access to sights and knowledge normally reserved only for medical professionals. Take the opportunity to peer inside yourself, to better understand how your elaborate and fascinating body works, and how you can become a more informed participant in your own health care.
Actual human specimens
Understand how your body works
Not everyone has been excited to see this exhibit. Some, in fact, aren't sure it should even be out there at all. This has led to all kinds of news stories and investigations. In other cities, there have been big protests to this exhibit of real human bodies. Long lines of picketers ...news cameras capturing sound bites from locals ... church rallies against what I always thought would be a really amazing glimpse of people without their skin. But Kansas City just sort of took the whole thing in stride.After all, we're in the middle of the country. Halfway between the left side and the right side. So it is fitting, I suppose that we would feel very "middle" about this whole thing. And maybe this is why no one around here really reacted to the Bodies exhibit. I mean besides my "HOLY CRAP I CANNOT WAIT TO SEE THIS!" reaction.
We decided to go a few weekends ago when my mom was in town. We made reservations. We talked about it all weekend ... what we thought it would be like, how excited I was, how interesting I thought the whole thing would be, how I couldn't wait to see these real human bodies in various dynamic positions and be able to touch my own body and probe muscles and fibers and oh my goodness I couldn't have been more excited if they served chocolate and alcohol at the thing. We got there right on time. We presented our tickets. We entered the exhibit. We walked around a corner and saw the first body.
And I about threw up.
When I was about 10 years old I was helping my mom clean out a dresser drawer. She was working on cleaning out her filing cabinet. It wasn't a hard chore and in many ways, it was quite fun. It was the top drawer of her and my father's dresser and you know how top drawers can be. Over the months, perhaps years, since it had last been cleaned and organized it had gathered all kinds of fun treasures - little tokens from the mini-golf place, broken cuff links, a misplaced sock or two, a monogrammed hankie, loose change, etc. At 9 or 10 years old, you can imagine how much fun it was for me to discover these items. Most of them I commandeered for myself and my own junk drawer. A couple of things I threw in the trash and some I neatly placed to the side to be put back in the drawer once I had emptied, cleaned and re-lined it with new shelf paper. One item, however, had me stumped.
It was at the bottom of the drawer.
It was small - fit neatly in my hand.
It was in a foil package.
It felt like there was something round inside and It squished a little when I pinched it between my fingers.
Sure, NOW I know it was a condom - clearly. But THEN ... back then I had no idea. Not a clue. I might as well have uncovered a mammoth tooth or something else I would never recognize, like my history text book. The completely weird thing about it is that even though I didn't know WHAT it was, I somehow knew I shouldn't be seeing it. I had a deep understanding that this was something beyond my ability to comprehend, that this was my parents' business - not mine, that I had crossed a line. I folded the thing into my hand and went to my mother on the other side of the room. I stood for a moment, not quite knowing what to say or ask. Finally I said, "Mom, I think there are things in the drawer I shouldn't see."
Without looking up she said simply and lightly, "No honey, not at all." And so I unfolded my hand and held the thing out to her. Her reaction? Pretty simple really ...
"Maybe I'll finished the dresser."
I wasn't in trouble. But I was clearly being given leave of the room. I collected my treasures I'd already piled up and tripped off to do something else. I was glad to be off the hook. Who knows what else I would have found in there? In the years since I've thought about that moment. I've laughed at my mom's reaction. I've wondered about my own. How did I know? And always, I remembered that feeling, that awareness. That "I've just seen something too big for my britches" feeling.
It was the same feeling I felt when I walked into that exhibit and saw those Bodies, revealed, naked in a way only they could be naked. Exposed without even their skin to cover them. I felt like I was seeing something I wasn't old enough to see, wasn't important enough to experience. The churning in my gut I felt upon gazing at those Bodies was not one caused by disgust but by awe. I felt like I had stumbled into a very holy place. It was shockingly raw. I stared in wonder. I didn't expect my reaction. I wanted to run to the nearest authority figure and say, "I think there are things here I'm not supposed to see." But I'm not sure they would have understood.
So I walked carefully through the exhibit. I gazed and stared and took deep cleansing breaths at times. I felt my stomach knot when I saw features like lips and eyelids that were still attached and other bits of skin with marks and wrinkles that would make this person recognizable in life. I clutched my own body and felt my eyes well up when I saw an 11 week old fetus and could recognize it for what it was. I reverted back to jr. high and giggled when I saw hoo-has and dinguses in all their glory - which, I have to say, without skin isn't much glory at all. I was amazed by the way muscles attach to bone and skin attaches to muscle and it all comes together in a way that allows me to ride a bike or make a banana split without ever even thinking about my body.
Even though it was crammed with people, walking through the exhibit was a very personal experience. I don't know what was tripping through the minds of everyone else there but mine skipped back and forth thinking about what I've asked of my own body, about times when my body rebelled, about two years ago when my body tried to kill me. And I thought about the times when I've adored my body, when I've gotten much pleasure from my body, when I've run my own hands over my body or allowed others to touch my body and what reactions it causes - physical and emotional. I thought about how my body heals itself and protects itself and strengthens with each new obstacle overcome. I was so grateful for this glimpse into myself. Grateful for those who discovered the processes that made the exhibit possible. Grateful for those who chose to bring it to my city. Grateful for those who stood before me stripped and exposed. Grateful for them, especially. It was quiet in that exhibit and I was grateful for that quiet. Whether it was out of awe, disgust or respect, I don't know, but it seemed that we all knew better than to point and shout. We all knew we were seeing something amazing. We all knew these bodies deserved to be honored, treated with respect, cared for, enjoyed.
And I'm not talking about the Bodies on display.
I'm talking about the ones we took home with us.