What If?

“If you could pick one part of your body to have plastic surgery on, which part would you pick?”

My brother asked me that question. We were both in our twenties, and my brother, never particularly happy with himself, enjoyed these flights-of-fancy games beginning with “if.”

I thought about it. One part of my body. Hmm. Maybe my butt? Thighs? Maybe a boob reduction? I might have wanted those things five years before. But, although I’d spent my teen years hating my overweight body, I’d finally started cardio and weight training at 21 and, after a year, had whipped my body into shape. The too-big parts had gotten smaller, and the too-flabby parts had firmed up nicely. I wasn’t about to change what I’d worked so hard to achieve.

How about my face? Nah. I wasn’t about to win any beauty contests, but I hadn’t been beaten by the proverbial “ugly stick,” either. My face was good enough. And, on the few occasions that I actually wore a little makeup, I could actually look pretty.

How about my bowlegs? My pigeon-toes? No. Other people seemed bothered by them more than I did. They weren’t perfect, but they were me.

“I don’t think I’d change anything,” I finally said.

“Really? You wouldn’t get your chin fixed?” he shot back innocently.

My chin? While reviewing my body’s possible candidates for change, I’d never once considered my chin. I’d never imagined that my chin was a problem. Thank you, dear brother, for pointing that out.

“Why my chin?” I asked.

“Because it’s so small. It gives you that moonpie face.”

It wasn’t the first time he’d called me “moonpie face.” And I thought it had lost its round, roly-poly aspect when I’d lost all the weight and cheekbones had magically appeared.

Ah, big brothers never cease to be big brothers.

Last night at poetry, we played at some of my brother’s “if” games. “If I could heal your deafness just by touching you,” Tom said, “would you want me to do that?”

I thought about it for a half-second.

“No,” I said.

“You wouldn’t?” I think everyone was a little surprised.

“I don’t think so.” In a weird way, I think that my ability to play the piano with my own special brand of sensitivity is partly due to my deafness. I can’t hear 100% of everything, so I play with what I have. My imagination comes into play when I strike the high notes that all sound alike to me. I play to my own weird sense of half-hearing, and it somehow sounds beautiful on the outside, to the “hearing” people who listen to me.

I continued the conversation, “But you know, if you could heal my depression with the touch of your hand, I might go for that ... but I don’t know. If I hadn’t spent so much of my life dealing with depression, my writing and music may never have happened the way they did.” So I guess I’ll keep the depression, burden that it is.

What if his question had been, “What if I could heal your depression by giving you a magic pill?” Then, my truthful answer would have been, “No thank you. I already have those magic pills, at least for when the depression becomes unbearable.”

The hearing, the depression, and my other conditions and traits that are considered “imperfections,” have made life harder in their own ways. But they are also what make me me. And, maybe more importantly, they’re partly responsible for my ability to sympathize, or empathize, with people. The fact that my own insecurities and craziness have caused me to do stupid and sometimes bad things in the past, has, in a very real way, made me better able to love people who don’t seem so lovable. I can laugh at my own problems, but I feel a connection, a kinship, with people who have to take Prozac, or who have had nervous breakdowns, or who stuggle with weight, or who are hateful and bitter, or who have to ask you to repeat yourself five times because they can’t hear you. If I hadn’t dealt with these types of things myself, I don’t think I would have the same genuine sympathy that I have for others now.

And what if we’re meant to have the handicaps we have? What if these imperfections really do have a purpose? One guy in our poetry group might say they do, and that they’re related to karma, reincarnation, and learning from our past lives. Others (but probably no one from the poetry group) would say that our imperfections and handicaps are not necessarily “meant to be,” but are are a result of our sin.

Whatever they are, they are what they are. The “what if” games are fun, but I wonder … where do we draw the line on what we’ll allow technology to change in and on our bodies? Is it OK only when an imperfection or handicap becomes life-threatening? After all, an abortion is considered acceptable by many if the life of the mother is threatened. Gastric bypass surgery has saved lives of the morbidly obese. My magic pills snatch me from the jaws of self-injury or even death whenever the depression gets really, really bad. Doctors fix hearts and lungs all the time, and it’s a good thing.

With today’s medical technology, many of the “if” games aren’t such flights of fancy anymore. And they’ll become more and more grimly--or wonderfully--real in the future. What might seem like “messing with God’s plan” today will be the most accepted thing in the world in fifty years. Just as artificial means of birth control, which in their own way, are “messing with God’s plan,” are normal, accepted, and encouraged today.

It’s the same old argument about new things. Many were polarized, then wearied, by it during the Terri Schiavo saga last month. And I'm wearied of it right now. I had great plans for a meaningful little essay today, but it’s turned into the same-old, same-old treadmill of a circular argument.

What if ...

If I could move these thoughts into a different direction, would I like my conclusions? If I could read lots of books on science and theology, would I have a better idea of what I’m trying to get at? If I would quit blogging for now, would I be able to get the draft of this system administrator’s guide edited and off my desk before lunch?

I know the answer to at least one of those questions.

Back to work!

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