My sister, Judith, banged her toe on her coffee table yesterday. She told me all about it over the phone. She said it was so bad that not only was the toe bruised, but so was part of her foot. Of course I could empathize—everyone knows how painful it is to smash a piggy.
As is often the case, our conversation set me to Googling. Judith’s hurt toe reminded me of some college biology class tidbits, like the fact that her toe didn’t actually feel the pain, its nerve receptors just collected some data and sent it to her brain…which then felt the pain. Each body part is allotted a portion of cortex real estate. The larger its assigned area, the more sensitive the body part.
Our most sensitive areas are our lips, face, hands, fingers, feet, toes (sorry, Judith), tongues, and eyes. Aren’t we brave, walking around with all of our most sensitive parts exposed?
It didn’t surprise me to learn that our backs are the least sensitive body part. Remember playing that game where your friend or grandma used their finger to write on your back and you tried to guess the words? It’s fun because it’s difficult when it seems like it should be easy. I understand now—after my Judith-inspired Googling—that it’s difficult because our backs are…stupid. They’ve been deeded very little brain space.
Then I had a revelation! I no longer have to take to my grave, unanswered, one of life’s most pressing questions: how is it that people (mostly men) cannot feel when their shirt has risen and their pants have fallen, and they’re exposing to the world several inches of their…crevice?
This cannot be blamed on vocation. There simply aren’t that many plumbers out there, and the people I see aren’t wearing heavy tool belts.
I have always wondered…don’t they feel the air on exposed skin that is used to being covered by not one, but two layers of clothing (three if they tucked their shirts in)? Do they just not care? Why doesn’t their family see what I see and tell them?
But now I understand. It’s about good custodianship. The…fissure… is not capable of protecting itself like, say, the eyes, who not only use the buddy system but can literally see trouble coming and call for backup from the arms and legs. You can’t fault the…cleft… for not alerting the body about its indecent exposure—it hasn’t been given enough brainpower. It’s the most vulnerable member of the body, helpless. It travels life’s roads with a view from the wayback of the station wagon—the last to see the scenery as it flies by backwards—and the rest of the body has an obligation to look out for this defenseless region.
Now that I have a compassionate understanding of the dopey innocence of the…rift… I feel kind of bad. You see, on at least two occasions I have taken a photographic souvenir of the grossed-out laughs I shared with my middle daughter, Madeline, after witnessing a…ravine. In both photos she poses wearing a huge smile. Upon closer inspection you can see a man’s partially exposed backside strategically offset in the background.
Like this photo we took in Starbucks: there was a large man sitting on a stool at the bar exposing what could be described as nothing less than a…crevasse. The skin was pinkish-purple—the color of a newborn baby low on oxygen—and it was speckled with darker purple spots—hyper-pigmentation left over from last month’s blemishes. It was not a good look. But every person who walked in the door had no choice but to see it. He even had a lady friend who passed behind him a couple of times but sounded no alarm. Perhaps her eyes were desensitized to the sight and no longer sent panicked messages up to the plantation-sized cortex space they enjoyed in her brain. We, on the other hand, took a picture.
It’s been a while since Madeline and I have captured one of those shots, but I’m sure we’ll do it again because, well, it’s important for kids to grow up with traditions. From now on, though, knowing what I now know about neurology, when I snap the picture, I might feel just a little bit sorry for the dumb…butt.
Read more of her essays at Sarahdickerson.com