How did you find yourself this morning?
Well, I woke up, pulled back the duvet, and there I was.
I lose all sorts of things. On Wednesday, arriving back at my midweek residence I had my keys in my hand. By the time I had assembled by briefcase, suitcase and extra bag at the back of my car, I had lost them.
I checked my jacket pockets ten times, under the car seats 4 times and forensically emptied each bag twice. Half an hour later I sat in my car helpless and deflated. Then, in an uncharacteristic move, I decide to think rather than flap. Walking to the back of the car I spied some small metal key-shaped objects on a ring half-buried in the pebbles.
We lose all sorts of things. But rest assured everything we have ever lost is somewhere. Do you ever think about that? Particularly if it is plastic or imperishable. Or if not, it has become something else. The coat we left on the bus twenty years ago now forms part of a couple of tins of soup in Tesco (having decomposed and been applied to a field of potatoes); the remaining atoms having been breathed in by 27 different people to form a mixture of hair, nails, kidneys and noses. The zip and buttons remain buried for the pleasure of a future archaeologist.
The world just keeps re-inventing itself. The vast majority of the elements recycle without the need for brown bins or green bags. You and I are all part of some previous person, animal of thing. I don’t believe in re-incarnation, but I do believe the carbon atoms in my body have lived a small part of a thousand other lives. Maybe some even more glorious than this one. We often wonder where the coins in our pockets have been before us. Well think about your atoms – if only they could talk . . .
The perceived wisdom is that we replace our cells every 7-10 years. So the body you found when you woke up in this morning was not the person you found ten years ago – despite the almost spooky resemblance. (For the avoidance of doubt, I’m talking about you, not the body next to you).
Your fat cells will all have been replaced – maybe even supplemented. Maybe even significantly supplemented! Your heart however will be 95% the same and your cerebral cortex neurons will be unchanged. These are never replaced. A sobering thought. I wonder how many I have left? As my kids used to say – “is your brain cell lonely in there, all by itself?”
So whilst our bodies make the ultimately futile attempt to renew themselves, our brain cells plough on tenaciously. Which explains why people often say they feel the same inside when they are 70 as when they were 20, but look a little different on the outside. If only our replacement cells were like the ones we were born with, rather than replicating the ageing ones they are replacing. I have vague ideas that stem cells are like this, but will pass that one over to my biochemical daughter to correct me.
So even though our bodies ache and wrinkle a little more each day. our cerebral cortex neurons heroically persist. How frustrating it is for them to have to lug around this heavy weight sack of muscle, fat and bone – which after all is two-thirds water. And one day it will let us down. I have my body’s epitaph ready “you let me down, you let your friends down and most of all, you let yourself down .. .”
I don’t know about you, but just having to take the lump upstairs to fetch my slippers is wearisome enough – never mind having to wash it, feed it, exercise it, clothe it, soothe it and repair it. Never mind having to present it to the rest of the world according to a perplexing and rather bizarre set of social rules. Like tying a piece of cloth round its neck to allow it to enter a certain Club (reference last week’s blog).
Of all of those, having to transport it is the biggest bore. Particularly when other people are also trying to pack their baggage of smelly cells into the same compartment. Yuk.
Unlike our keys, our body is really is one thing we cannot lose. It stays with us faithfully and relentlessly. Our minds are trapped behind our eyes and between our ears. The ultimate solitary confinement, the ultimate claustrophobia. And yes, it can be lonely in here.
Increasingly a our bodies become a burden rather than a delight. Small children love to discover and experiment with their toes or their noses. Teenagers clothe their bodies and decorate them as works of abstract art, often beautifully or at least strikingly. Young people stretch them and parade them, making them fitter and leaner. Middle-aged people fight them, give in and simply slouch in them. Elderly people find them painful and unreliable like a rusting old car. And finally we recycle them. The bible tells me that one day I will have a brand new body which will never wear out. I’m definitely looking forward to that.
Meanwhile it is time to take this old one to the shower, clean its teeth and find it something respectable to hide inside. I have fed it porridge, but now it wants coffee. It is moaning about a painful knee when it slipped on some slippery rocks on the beach. I have little sympathy. It should be able to operate without falling over at its age. Later I will take it for a walk and this evening sedate it with a glass of wine or two to help it sleep. I feel like a carer and the patient is getting increasingly difficult and demanding.
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