We suffer so many changes to the citadels of our bodies caused by the simple passage of time! When I first heard about Margaret Attwood’s book, The Blind Assassin (which I haven’t yet read) I was convinced that the title must be a reference to Time; I was quite surprised when my sister, who was reading it, told me that there was an actual blind assassin character in the book. And then in addition we have the changes wrought on us by sickness, by accident, by grief, by the depredations of just living our lives.
We think of our bodies as though they are actually “ours”; as though we control them, and can tell them what to do. To a certain extent, this is accurate; if I were to die today, I assume my body wouldn’t carry on getting up and going into work without me (whatever “me” is). But there is also evidence, which I believe I may have mentioned here before, that when we decide to move, say, an arm, the signals to the muscles and nerves in the arm happen before the electrical impulse in the brain, almost as though the decision to move is actually made by the body and merely rubber-stamped by the brain. And of course this has to be so; when we stumble for instance, the whole complex process of checking our fall happens without conscious intervention, because conscious thought is far too slow. Which raises the interesting question: who’s in charge? Ah, we say, we are, the conscious “we”, except in an emergency, when instinctive behaviour takes over. But if that’s the case, who decides it’s an emergency? Who has the key to the nuclear bunker where the override switch is kept? Answer me that!
Of course I’m digressing, and I’ve written about this here before, but I do find this interesting. “We” sit in our brains, happily believing that we’re in charge, while all sorts of things go on which are outside our control. We’re like the queen in a fairy tale, sitting in our castle at the centre of a vast kingdom, most of which is inaccessible to us. We have maps, of course, particularly of the most commonly used byways and major population centres, and many messengers and travellers go to and fro along these and bring us back news and information, but we ourselves can never leave the castle and travel along them. (Have you ever been inside your foot in the same way you’re “inside” your head? Well, then).
There are huge tracts of the kingdom which are simply inaccessible, the impenetrable forests, the trackless mountains, and we have never met anyone who has been there. We have traveller’s tales and rumours and drawings, but no hard evidence. If we need to, we can consult books and wise men and experts and get a better idea, but even their knowledge is patchy and far from reliable.
And in the whole kingdom, even the city around our castle which we believe we know so well, there is so much that we don’t know about! So many citizens going about their daily lives and routines without ever involving us. Merchants, builders, markets, soldiers, sailors, farmers, law makers, librarians, policemen, travellers, all going about their business of keeping the kingdom going without us ever knowing a thing about it. There are cabinets and councils and committees which control everything and which we never attend, making daily, hourly, minute-by-minute decisions about everything: resourcing, taxation, development, transport, waste disposal, security, and so on and so on, all without a whisker of input from us. Oh, we get reports, of course, and we have a theoretical veto which we sometimes even exercise, but mostly we don’t have any influence over the decisions because we haven’t a clue they’re being made.