Life Lessons from the Physical World

Monday, January 30, 2006

Amazing Miraculous Creatures Are We

For our hot and sexy Saturday night date, Mr. X and I went to see the controversial Body Worlds exhibit at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Hundreds of donor bodies and body parts were subjected to the "plastination" process; the bodies were drained of fluids and then a plastic material was injected so the bodies could be shaped into life-like positions--running, smoking, doing gymnastics, playing chess, riding a bike, giving a lecture. Cross-section slices through brains, spines, diseased and normal organs, an obese leg, were displayed in lighted cases. In the "fetus room," plastinated embryos and fetuses at all stages of development were encased in cubes of glass. There were thought-provoking philosophers' quotes about life and death and the physical body printed on huge banners hung from the ceiling.

Despite a huge crowd that detracted a bit from our enjoyment (the museum staff was completely inept at managing the throngs), the exhibit was fantastic. I've read that the exhibit has increased the number of people making a commitment to donate their bodies to science; maybe they're thinking this is a way to "live" forever, if they can't afford cryogenics. Or maybe they genuinely want to contribute to a better human understanding of how our bodies function; I can see how the display would inspire people to do that.

I was initially surprised at how many children were there. But I guess this is because I grew up in a family where death is feared, denied, ignored. Now I think it's wise to teach kids that skulls and skeletons aren't just scary Halloween decorations, that these body parts aren't something alien to or outside our human reality. That these bones, blood, nerves, muscles, tendons, organs are all there underneath our skin, and while we are alive their design and function are miraculous. That eventually they deteriorate and lose the life force that holds them together. And that all of this is natural.

Intellectually, I try to believe this and find serenity in its certainty.

But on a human, emotional level, I must admit it makes me sad and makes me shiver.