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LOOKING BACK, I CAN SEE HOW MY WHOLE LIFE HAS LED TO THIS: a book about a book about anatomy and about the education of an anatomist, albeit an amateur one. Sigmund Freud was right, it turns out: Anatomy is destiny —or mine, at least.
A bloom in a boulder crack, my fascination with human anatomy took root in the less-than-accommodating conditions of a strict Irish Catholic upbringing in the 1960s. You are made in God’s image, I remember being told by the nuns in catechism classes, which struck me as wonderful news; to cherish your body was to cherish the Creator. At the same time, though, the story of Adam and Eve made it frighteningly clear that the body is a shameful vessel for sin. Even today, while I no longer consider myself Catholic or even religious, the tale of their fall from innocence haunts me: God warning Adam, you shall die if you eat of the tree of knowledge, and then Eve—poor, gullible Eve—sweet-talked by the snake, pulling an apple from the tree. I still just want to stop her—No!
“Then the eyes of both were opened; and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together.” Banishment from the garden was but one part of their sentence. “You are dust,” God tells them, “and to dust you shall return.”
The moral, simple enough for a child to grasp, is that when God says no, he really means no. But the story also conveys a more insidious notion: awareness of the body may lead to spiritual death.
To the eight-year-old me, fresh from making my first confession, Adam and Eve were especially effective in promoting the idea that nakedness went hand in hand with sin. And yet, making matters morally confusing, there were some naked people it was okay to look at, whose nakedness you were meant to take notice of, beginning, ironically enough, with Adam and Eve. Even in my children’s Bible, those two appeared as delectable as a couple of ripe Red Delicious apples. The most frequent naked body I saw while growing up though, belonged to Jesus. In our house, crucifixes were as common as light fixtures. A small bronze one hung above my bed, and I prayed to it every night. But, in a curious design choice, as I think of it now, the largest crucifix was posted right outside the bathroom my five sisters and I shared. Jesus, as if clad in a towel rather than a loincloth, appeared to be waiting his turn for the shower. I can still recall every detail of that crucifix, a wooden one my dad had bought in Mexico. The body was carved with such care, so that legs and arms were finely muscled and veined and the torso made long and sinuous. His nakedness exposed every crucifixion wound and was crucial to reinforcing a central tenet of the church: The gash along his ribs was due to our sin. The trickle of blood down his forehead was our fault. Christ’s pain was meant to cause you the same. His death, we were never to forget, was for us.
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