It’s quite disconcerting to look down at the kitchen counter and see a part of yourself lying there, apparently no longer a part of you. Before you get faint, it makes you wonder about who you really are in the first place. Was that severed part of me ever actually me to begin with? And the rest of me that hasn’t been cut away, can I believe that that is me if it might just as easily get cut away tomorrow? Where am I in all of this? I had an instant to wonder, before the entirety of my attention was drawn powerlessly down toward the counter. There it was, the small tip of my thumb, no longer mine, blending in on the mandoline slicer that took it from me. It was the dead color of a corpse, not a speck of blood in sight. Where’s the blood? There, flooding out from the part of me that was still under my care. Time to tend the wound.
It’s such a shocking thing when you really think about it, the tremendous vulnerability of being human. We are no less exposed than earthworms on the sidewalks of a rainy day, and no less sensitive. We bruise and break, squish and squash. Or better put in the passive voice, in which the subject is helplessly acted upon: we are bruised and broken, squished and squashed. It’s a stormy universe, and we’re such soft little creatures, permeable in mind and body, affected, moved, and shaped by so many forces outside our control, most of which we can’t even see. That is some scary shit right there. It’s no wonder we’re such a violent species: we are acutely aware at some level of our immense vulnerability, and this makes us afraid, and when we’re afraid we fight. We bruise and break other people with our fists, or squish them and squash them with our words.
But it may be the case that living intimately with the awareness of vulnerability can also lead to fearlessness. I don’t know for sure, as I’m still scared shitless of it, of how I can just lose the tip of my thumb in a blink, or get my heart broken out of nowhere, or worse, but I can see how it might make sense. If I’m aware that this human being was born with the capacity to experience pain, just as it was born with the capacity to breathe, then the pain just becomes an inevitable part of it. No amount of fearing and fighting will change that which is inevitable. If I can recognize my own vulnerability and live with it close, then my day-to-day existence isn’t so fundamentally problematic anymore. I can walk down the street in wonder at my own exquisite tenderness, and with respect for the delicacy of each person who passes me by. And when the pain comes, it is no fearsome stranger. And when I see it in someone else, I am not repulsed. Rather, I am a conscious witness to an unshielded expression of raw, unedited humanness.
It still hurts like hell, though, and I still have to feel the wound, and tend it. Already, the thumb is healing. It’s amazing how healing just happens, without permission or request, on its own time, through its own kind of knowing, even when you’re scared it won’t.