Back Surgery

So, I have a date and a time: December 18, at 8:00 am. At 8:00 am my surgeon will slice through my skin and muscle around H4-H5, peel back the skin, and, if all goes according to plan, begin “cleaning out” the excess bone and debris that has accumulated there, along with a noxious cyst that, truth be told, is the center of all this unnecessary pain. And then they will close me up and administer heavy doses of narcotics to relieve the pain of healing. Six weeks later, I will bounce up to the stage and begin teaching Urban Economics 155. Yes!

I don’t know what pain after 10 feels like. But I do know something close to 10, which is what I live with constantly, which is what justifies the surgery. So, for example, pain close to 10 did not prevent me from scaling the Tennessee Valley Ridge Trail two weeks ago — I could not feel legs or feet; nor has it prevented me from scaling the six floors to my office twice a week, or the 5-7 miles I walk (wander?) every day in Berkeley. So, if 10 doesn’t hamper my mobility, why even bother?

I am not my “self.” I really am my body. As many who have known me for long will attest, I am not my “self.” It is not that my body intercedes. I really am my body. In fact, I could not religiously participate in Mass were I not my body. The body is not immaterial. It is not incidental. I am not my “self.” I am my body. Which is why, Sunday after Sunday, I consume the Body, which is not immaterial.

When — as brother Foucault would say — when I discipline my body by enduring pain at its highest level, I am not an ascetic. I do not believe this translates me anywhere else. I am not seeking to become a non-body. Were I to seek this, I would thereby renounce my faith. I am a body . . . in pain. Living . . . in pain.

But the pain is not  . . . is not . . . emancipatory; any more than the crucifixion of the Palestinian Jew on the Cross is emancipatory. No. The pain  points beyond itself. It points to a moment when I am without pain, whole, restored, happy. And, in the midst of extraordinary pain, I have looked forward — literally, looked forward — to when there is no pain; fully knowing that that point may never actually arrive. But the pain itself is not the goal, the aim, the solace. That would be perverse. It would erase, eviscerate, elide the meaning of the Cross — which is Life. The Cross too points beyond the Cross. The Cross is not its meaning.

So, I am going under the knife to see whether my mind and body can enjoy a few more years with normal pain; not 10, but, say, 5, or even 3. It may be then that I will be able to focus on more perduring forms of pain that surgery cannot eliminate. In any case, I cannot say for sure that surgery will make me any better equipped to enjoy all of you and the amazing world around me.

Nevertheless, I am looking forward to back surgery.

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