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Coleman > Articles
> Inspired by the Dead
By the Dead
"Every man is the builder of a temple, called his
body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own,
nor can he get off by hammering marble instead. We are all
sculptors and painters, and our material is our own flesh
and blood and bones."
-- Henry David Thoreau (American Essayist,
Poet and Philosopher, 1817-1862)
One November I took a cadaver dissection class. I knew if
I could see inside a human body, I could then "see"
inside the bodies of my clients.I needed to see in three dimensions,anatomy
books wouldn't cut it. And this was a "fresh" (frozen
and thawed) cadaver, not preserved in formaldehyde, thus it
retained much more of its natural colors and textures than
the typical medical cadaver. I had thought it would be "a
dead body". But it wasn't. It was a man. A 70 year old
man with a tale to tell. A story told in missing toes and
adhesions around the heart. A saga of medical implements:
shunts and stints and metal wedged deep inside bone. When
we started taking this person apart, we knew nothing about
him except his age. We were asked to lay hands on his cold
flesh and "listen" to the pulls and twists and drags
inside his body's tissue web. I felt a flash of heat over
his sternum. "Heat? in a frozen cadaver?" one of
my colleagues quipped. We were asked, as the dissection progressed,
to see if we could determine what had ultimately killed him.
We looked at the outside of his body; we looked at the inside;
we looked inside the insides. My instructor's knife hit an
artery with a scraping, crunching sound...huh? A tube of woven,
coppery metal flashed inside the femoral artery. And later
a tube of corrugated plastic traversing from one femoral artery
to the other.Heavy hardening of the arteries elsewhere. I
could put my finger inside the aorta and feel the "dots"
of calcification. It felt just like those dotted grippy work
gloves. Finally we discovered the mystery: he died of a massive
I was astounded by the enormity of this man's gift. To offer
up his body to teach us what could never really be learned
otherwise. He now lives on in each of us. Like a great work
of art that changes one irrevocably, this man's body, his
most intimate work of art, has changed me forever.
I'm seeing what one creates in a lifetime.
The story unfolds.
The mysteries revealed in part. Like looking at tree rings
showing the great fires, droughts, and years of plenty.
History told in flesh.
We spend a lifetime creating these bodies. These brains.
The brain, just another organ,
sliced up like a meatloaf along with the others.
A fascinating organ, to be sure, but more so than the liver?
Did you see the Bodies exhibit with the blood vessels of the
kidney lit up like a jewel? I was not surprised that some
could not resist that one.
Like the apple, red and juicy and shining, invoking a desire
so deep not the wrath of God or Justice could dissuade.
That burning from within that compells us to grow, to seek
out that which will inspire our development: as individuals
and as a species.
Is this burning the driving, spiral quest of our DNA? Twisting
toward the light like some vining morning glory?
Is this hunger the curious gravitation of the brain toward
the beacon of new stimuli?
Having seen introduced material grown into the flesh, I can
say that the brain is not.It is most definitely the body.
Not some separate cyborg GPS technology "hooked up"
to the rest of the body.
From the images we gather from books and words we cannot fathom
the incredible seamless unity of our flesh. All is interwoven,
originating together, and yet there is still distinction,
separate movement, individual purpose within the collective.
So how is it that "spirit"? This energy of life...
Can be dissected from this wholeness?
That which made him go was gone. I gape in awe at the fascinating
wondrous husk left by the being who animated my cadaver. It's
all that is left.
ALL that is left? Look what he left!!! How many ever appreciate
what a man has built? We give a few honors to it, though the
undertaker does most of this for us in his secret lab. And
then We bury it, or burn it: the fate of everything else in
our trash. I've always wondered at the purpose of a "viewing".
Are we pausing to appreciate the body this person has spent
his whole life creating? His life's work. Truly. The only
project you have worked on every moment since conception.
Body Reuse click here
Body Recycling/composting click
Body Reduce click
here or here