The human body is absolutely fascinating: a beautiful, complex, resilient machine. From the macroscopic level of the heart – pumping 60-100 times per minute, every minute, often for decades on end – to the microscopic level of the immune system – constantly fighting off invaders we don’t even know we have, the more I learn of the intricacy and efficiency of the body the more amazed I become. But what exactly is the meaning and purpose of the human body? What is our relationship with this body, and how does it change over a lifetime? As we prepare to intervene when the body is not working optimally, caring for individuals who may soon part ways with their bodies, these are the types of questions we have been pondering as medical students in our most recent Foundations of Medicine block, “The Call of the Body.”
As captivating as the human body may be, there is nothing like anatomy lab to remind you of its fragility. At 8 am every Monday morning, those oh-so-fascinating bodies, sprawled out on stainless steel tables and ready for their insides to be cut and poked and prodded, gently remind me that there will come a day when I will no longer inhabit my own. Though we often allow our bodies to define who we are, this weekly scene demands us to recognize that in fact our bodies are just the temporary vehicles through which we experience life.
As such vehicles, every unique body allows for a unique experience of life. The body presents challenges to each individual in a way that is often neither fair nor pleasant. These challenges range from nuisance to life-threatening, from a broken leg to blindness to cancer. Though it may be easier to see the body as burdensome in these cases, it is in accepting these challenges we cannot control and learning to use one’s own original body to experience life that we find fulfillment and continue to inch toward our maximum potential. For the person with a broken leg this may mean navigating daily life with crutches for a few weeks, for the person with blindness this may mean learning Braille, and for the person with cancer this may mean continuing to learn and love with friends and family between treatments while fighting for his or her life.
Through CrossFit, we recognize the necessity of meeting life’s challenges head-on. We refuse to take the easy way out, as comfortable as it may be. Not only do we learn to live our lives with the challenges our bodies present, but we actively seek out new challenges for our bodies to overcome every day. In the box, the uniqueness of the body becomes even more apparent as every individual has his or her own limitations – poor shoulder mobility, low cardiovascular endurance, a stiff knee. We realize the importance of attending to our own personal weaknesses so that we might use our bodies more efficiently as we continue to challenge them in new ways. More important than the time on the clock or the weight on the barbell is the fact that we are constantly expanding the unique limits of our own bodies. Using the vehicles that are our bodies in such a way allows us to grow stronger in mind as well, so that we may develop the fortitude to handle all of life’s challenges, large or small. After all, the body is just a temporary vehicle, but the person, and how that person chooses to live through his or her body- choosing to succumb to life’s challenges or overcome them, lives much longer.
“What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” – Nietzsche