Back in 1855, Walt Whitman’s renowned poetry collection, “Leaves of Grass”, was published. One of the best known poems in that collection was changed in a later edition (in 1867) and given the first line and title, “I Sing the Body Electric”. It’s a glorious phrase, one which has inspired many other works with similar titles.
Within those verses, Whitman rhapsodically recounts the wonders of the human body, its forms and its functions, its abilities and its attractions. He goes so far as to equate the body to the soul. Clearly he rejects orthodox Christian theology. Clearly he adores the human body.
Clearly he doesn’t have MS.
You don’t have to tell me about the body electric. I can feel its current as it zaps me into submission. When I get those electric shocks—they come at frequent but irregular intervals—they usually inspire not so much singing as screaming.
Yup, sometimes MS hurts. Wicked bad. MS can cause direct neuropathic pain (ice picks anyone?) as well as the indirect musculoskeletal pain brought about by the body’s futile attempts to compensate for weaknesses in its various members. And if you’ve ever experienced the electric joy of trigeminal neuralgia (a.k.a. “the suicide disease”, often associated with MS) you ain’t gonna be singing nothin’ but the blues. I could teach B. B. King and his Lucille a thing or two when dealing with such excruciating pain.
Pragmatic folks that we are, we neurologically-challenged take a more realistic, less poetic approach to the human body because we’ve experienced it at its worst. We also readily acknowledge that it’s a complete and utter mystery. Just ask my neurologist.
Look, I’m not saying the human body is bad. Even for people with MS. It’s essentially neutral. It responds to good and bad impulses alike. It brings us both pleasure and pain. It’s often strong, but sometimes weak. It succeeds and it fails.
To deify such a fickle beast would be a mistake. After all, the body is mortal. My God says my soul is immortal. That’s a major difference.
(NB: For another writer’s view of the soul, check out the excerpt in this post.)