My favorite body part is the brain, that shiny mound of being, that mouse gray parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petit tyrant inside a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasure dome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes into a gym bag. The neocortex has ridges, valleys, and folds because the brain kept remodeling itself though space was tight. We take for granted the ridiculous-sounding-yet-undeniable fact that each person carries around atop her body a complete universe in which billions of sensations, thoughts, and desires stream. They mix privately, silently, while agitating on many levels, some of which we're not aware of, thank heavens. If we needed to remember how to work the bellows of the lungs or the writhing python of digestion, we'd be swamped by formed and forming memories, and there'd be no time left for buying cute socks. My brain likes cute socks. But it also likes kisses. And asparagus. And watching boat-tailed grackles. And biking. And drinking Japanese green tea in a rose garden. There's the nub of it—the brain is personality's whereabouts. It's also a stern warden and, at times, a self-tormentor. It's where catchy tunes snag and cravings keep tugging. A hand-me-down miracle is that we are living things made of nonliving parts. Our brain is a crowded chemistry lab, bustling with nonstop neural conversations. It's also an impersonal landscape where minute bolts of lightning prowl and strike. A hall of mirrors, it can contemplate existentialism, the delicate hooves of a goat, and its own birth and death in a matter of seconds. It's blunt as a skunk and a real gossip hound, but also voluptuous, clever, playful, and forgiving. For all those reasons, and because it's shaped a little like a loaf of French country bread, it's my favorite companion.
2. The Tongue
Gray's Anatomy calls the tongue "an organ of special sense." I'll say. You can taste with it, kiss with it, talk with it, flick a vexing shred of corn caught between your teeth, yodel, lick and suck, insult just by sticking it out, and if you're genetically positive, roll it up on the sides and fill it like a bathtub with spit, a favorite childhood pastime. The only bad moment my tongue ever gave me was when I was tweezing my eyebrows with a 6X mirror, megamagnification that makes a pore look like Mount Vesuvius. For reasons I don't know, I stuck my tongue out and suffered a seismic shock. Lord, it was ugly. Uglier than feet. It had cracks and bumps and wavy eminences called papillae. The ventral side exposed bulging blue veins and slick flaps. It looked rough. Toward the back it turned scuzzy. I thought about my friend Marjie, who recently tried to talk me into buying a tongue scraper.
"No way," I said.
"But you should see what comes off," she said.
"I don't want that in my house," I told her. "Whatever's on my tongue's supposed to be there."
I couldn't sing, swallow, or whistle without my tongue. But I think it's changing. I can no longer scarf a one-pound bag of candy corn. (A one-pound bag of M&M's is still no trouble.) And suddenly I find myself loving the taste of beets, spinach, and figs. Is my tongue growing up with me? Not too much, please. On a recent trip to Morocco, I learned something new to do with it. Tzeghret is the famous wild call from The Battle of Algiers. Ready? Make a high-pitched wooooooooo sound. Now stick your tongue out and whip it side to side superfast. Bravo.
We have infinite possibilities for using our hands. Thanks to our sense of touch, we are able to experience the world around us and learn that it is full of other softnesses, other tautnesses, other dampnesses, other depths. Among myriad opportunities, our hands are capable of giving and receiving cosmic energy. Giving and receiving love. Creating or destroying peace and well-being.
There are hands that love and hands that fight. Hands that pray and hands that sin. Hands that heal and hands that torture. Hands that bless and hands that corrupt. Hands that caress and hands that murder. Hands that free and hands that imprison. What makes these hands different is the intention behind each act carried out by them. The same hands we use to create works of art, build cathedrals, or clothe our children can be used to throw bombs, aim machine guns, and destroy entire civilizations. What is it that makes us choose one option or the other? It is our level of consciousness and free will. What I decide to do with my hands determines my future, that of my family and my country, and that of the planet and the universe.
There are people who like to tie the hands of others. To tell them what they should do, how they should behave, how they should hold their fork, how they should bring food to their mouth, or how they should make policy—but it is up to us to decide whether or not to give them this power. Our hands are the center of productivity, and also of free will. Hands can build a better world or they can destroy the one that already exists: The choice is up to each of us. The love and the world are in our hands.
(Translated by Stephen Lytle)