- What the Body Knows
"The sun shines not on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies."—John Muir.
Lately I have been rising earlier than usual. Too early for my tired body I tell myself each morning as I grudgingly pull myself from my warm covers and walk out, shivering, into the freezing winter dawn. Too early. But necessary. It is because of the puppy—a long story that can be told briefly here. A few days after we arrived to begin living and working in Córdoba, Argentina, this tiny creature appeared, trembling, alone and hungry, on the street near our home. We brought the puppy inside, to feed him and warm him up. But only for as long as it took us to find his owner. This much was clear: we could not possibly take care of a puppy at this moment, not on top of everything else we were facing in our new life here. THERE WAS NO WAY. Of course, the puppy stayed. And now, amidst all the many and varied demands of an often-overwhelming life in a new country, the puppy (Solito—"little lonely one") commands the center. Or a large part of the center. His irrepressible energy, his unfailing good humor, his soulful eyes, his playfulness, the way he feels and smells. We cannot resist him. But there is also his endless need for our care and attention, his capacity to reduce anything within reach—slippers, jackets, and yes, homework, to shreds. And of course we clean up his messes. It is just like having an infant again (we have five human children and on most days this feels like quite enough). And so, each day, I rise early, walk outside and stand shivering in the cold darkness (it is winter here in Argentina) with our cachorro until I can come back inside the warm house again.
It is the intensely embodied character of this experience that I notice most. Solito is almost pure physicality, wriggling, squirming, crying out, nipping, licking. And, in these early morning moments anyway, I am too: a solitary figure standing in the darkness, looking up at the stars, doing what I can to stave off the cold, attending to the needs of this tiny creature. In these moments it seems almost as if I am my body.
Of course, it is not really so simple. I am after all thinking about this experience. I am wondering, for example, why I am walking around in the cold [End Page ix] darkness (and not someone else). I am puzzling over the at-times incomprehensible circumstances that have brought me to this country, to this work (immersing myself in this place and this culture, accompanying students who are themselves trying to learn what it means to practice the art of accompaniment here), to this pre-dawn walk. I am trying to understand who I am and who I will become amidst a language and culture and people so different from my own. How I will be challenged to reimagine my life and commitments. So, yes, my body mediates and makes all of this present to me. And the sheer vibrancy and intensity of the experience gives rise (to paraphrase what Paul Ricoeur once noted about symbols) to thought. To reflection and rumination. It opens up a space I am invited to enter and inhabit with the whole of my being, even as I also find myself called to reorient myself to the world around me—to the social fabric, the body politic, the neglected, forgotten, broken bodies I encounter almost every day. Here, it means attending to the simple beauty of the Salesian nuns with whom we work in Barrio Argüello, to the children (mostly immigrants) in the small, rural school in El Gateado whom we have also been invited to accompany, to the haunting presence of Las Sierras Chicas rising up in the distance. All of it.
To consider the significance of what the body knows seems a small thing; we do this every day. But we...