The Body Politic

I’ve been hearing things lately –but not in the bushes, or coming from dark alleys. These are not threatening noises. Not really. They are more like old friends whispering to me. Roommates who know me inside out –literally. I do not always welcome their company –quite the opposite, in fact. I wish they would go away. Find someone else to bother.

But that’s the problem with bodies, I find: they stick together by and large. They’re more faithful than partners and even more likely to cheek you back. Play on your weaknesses. And yet the awkward thing is that they cannot be gainsaid –at least not without consequences.

My knees, for example. They constantly talk to me in quiet dismissive tones, hopefully inaudible to passersby. They mumble and grumble quietly as I go about my day, seldom dissolving into sympathetic commiserations each evening as friends might with the retelling of some breach of Elder protocol, or the decision to hike all the way into town in sandals. They operate more like evangelical religious syndicates that would think nothing of inflicting crippling parental guilt to extract obeisance.

But I am by no means unicellular; I am homogenate -there are many voices in the choir. And in the spirit of polyphony, on any given day I am want to celebrate the chatter of almost any region. I am a personal parliament, a country masquerading as a body.

And yet, even as a body politic, I seek to understand my boundaries. Remember the Aesop fable of the ‘Belly and the Members’, in which the feet complain that the stomach gets all the food and forget that they both have to work together? My brain says ‘walk’, my stomach says ‘eat’, and my tired knees say ‘rest’. I figured maybe it was time to seek consensus before the Horsemen of the Apocalypse arrive.

I decided to ask Brien what his parts were telling him. I found him, of course, sitting on his porch settling into his second bag of pretzels of the morning. Brien always looks so… rooted. I suspect he has no quarrels to mediate, no disputatious factions demanding disparate actions. He is already a large man who has obviously learned to curb some urges for the benefit of others: a benevolent autocracy. I had to learn his secret.

Of course, every country is loath to divulge too much; its sovereignty depends on its cloak; its strength on the power to convince its constituents they are acting in their own best interests. Brien was good at that.

I waved at him from the sidewalk, but I think he must have been asleep because his head was deep in conversation with his chest. I could hear them talking in that personal dialect bodies seem to evolve for themselves when they think they are alone. But as soon as it heard me on the steps, his head shot bolt upright and a momentary look of confusion –an unmediated legislative fracas- ran briefly across his face and disappeared somewhere in his admittedly thinning hairline.

“Why do you always stop by when I’m deep in thought?” he eventually muttered once he managed to pull his tongue back into his mouth.

“I’m sorry, Brien, but I need your advice.”

That immediately brightened him up. Brien feels he has a lot of ungiven advice stored away, and he once told me that whenever he is offered a chance to clear a shelf or two, he feels lighter, or something.

He straightened a bit in the recliner. “We can do it on the porch though, eh?”

I stared at him quizzically for a second, and then relented. Brien has rules.

“Last time you wanted to discuss something while we walked…” he said, deciding he should probably clarify. “I don’t multitask.”

I had a feeling that he wasn’t going to be very helpful, somehow, but I tried to segue into the topic anyway. “Do you ever wonder about functional demands, Brien?”

One of his eyes half-closed itself, as if it was girding itself for a trick. “Huh?”

“I mean how do you deal with conflicts of interests between your parts?”

“Excuse me?” he said as if I were inquiring about bathroom issues.

I thought that perhaps it might be better to frame it with reference to myself. “You know…” I replied, trying desperately to think of something. “If were really tired after a long walk but knew I still had to cook my dinner because it was late and all the stores were closed…”  I didn’t feel totally comfortable with that example.

He smiled at the naïveté of my non-question and then shrugged as if the resolution was almost too obvious for words. Suddenly a grin appeared from nowhere. “Did you just use a subjunctive on me?”

I nodded. “I suppose so. Why?”

“You don’t usually talk like that…”

My turn to shrug. “I was merely indicating that it was a hypothetical…”

He stopped me with a rapid stun-and-retreat foray with his eyes. “So you weren’t sure about using my kitchen…?”

I sighed, but evidently not loudly enough.

He shook his head and withered me with an akimbo glare. “Is that the conflict of interest you were talking about?”

Actually, with all the Socratic-like repartees, I’d forgotten what I’d been talking about. When I looked confused, he decided to help me out. “Parts problems –you were talking about some organs arguing with you… About what? About music?” He sniggered at his wit. And then he turned suddenly serious. My parts obey. “I eat lots of fibre and avoid cabbage.” Then, obviously remembering something: “Corn can be a problem, too.” He raised his hands as if in prayer. “So I don’t eat them if somebody’s coming over…” He stared at me for a second and then, satisfied that he’d given nothing away, sat back in his recliner again, certain he’d been of some help.

But his eyes never strayed from the second now-empty package lying at his feet so I got up off the step and went into the kitchen to get another bag. You know, it really is amazing –after visiting with Brien, all my concerns seem to recede into the background. He’s always good to talk to about stuff that really matters.





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