22 May 2013

The Human Body

If you were listing to a speech while having a scan done of your brain, a certain part would "light up." A different part would light up if you saw a picture of a sunset or were eating a slice of chocolate cake or making a to-do list. I was sitting a psychology class in college when my professor broached a case that has always stuck with me: when children who communicated primarily with sign language saw people signing, the part of the brain that processes "speech" lit up on a scan.

Even though they were seeing the signs with their eyes and responding with their hands, the part of your and my brain that would light up if we were having a verbal conversation was lighting up in these signing kids.

The brain is amazing - so smart and so versatile that when one avenue is shut off, it detours and re-routes and figures out how to get its body driving again. Whether it's abuse or an accident or a birth defect, the human brain is designed to get you up and running again after trauma. Sometimes it's in an unhealthy way, like a defense mechanism, but sometimes it's awe-inspiring, like the brain of a deaf individual transferring visual signing to the language part of the brain.

I love science. Whenever I study anything ending in "-ology," I'm always so in awe of how key every little piece of the puzzle is and how flawlessly they work together. It's like when you're reading a really good book - a book in which the language is so beautiful, the plot so insightful, the characters so well formed that you know you're going to have to read it a few more times to get everything out of it. This world and everything in it is so incredible that no matter how much I study it, I feel like I'm never going to fully comprehend the details of that tiny little seed becoming that incredible redwood forest.

The more I study science and the human body, the more I believe in God. With each issue of National Geographic I read, each psychology documentary I watch, and each respected professor I hear lecture, I feel like I am getting a small peak at the brilliance of God. The flawless way He made everything and makes them come together.

Down syndrome means that Abigail isn't going to progress on her own and I need to help at every little step. Each milestone is broken down into a dozen little baby steps that we have to tackle one-at-a-time. Just like when you learned math. First, you learn about numbers. You learn what order they go in, what they represent, and how to write them. Once you've got that step down, you learn to combine them. You add or subtract them, using counting bears or hearing stories about Cindy giving Ken one of her apples and figuring out who has how many apples now. At this point, you probably think you know all there is to know about math, then along comes Mrs. 3rd-Grade-Math-Teacher who throws multiplication and division at you. It's a rare kid who hasn't had a good cry over long division homework.

Each step takes so much work, so much practice. But it is so beautiful. The curve of Abigail's little calves when she's squatting down, her tiny toes holding a death grip on the rug, trying desperately not to lose her balance. Her teeny little biceps when she pulls herself up, the angle of her little diapered tush when she's trying to stand up without holding on to anything.

It's amazing. I get to see how the human body learns to walk in extreme detail. Sometimes I really have to work to hold myself back from complimenting random strangers on their child's ability to lean outside their center of gravity while standing on an uneven surface or how powerful their child's quads are when they squat down to pick up a small object. It's so beautiful to me to see such a tiny little body trying and succeeding at such a difficult task.

It is not always easy. Sometimes it is so painful that the tears blur out my sight of the beauty.

But I pray almost every day that I will never need a tragedy to make me realize what I have and how amazing it is.

We all have struggles that make us more aware of how simple some things are for other people. I am very aware of how easy it is for me to use my core to keep from falling or how easy it is for me to make a pencil do what I want. I am very aware of how beautiful the human body is when it's working perfectly. But in many ways it's more beautiful to watch it achieve its goals when the deck is stacked against it.


Kate Sherwood said...

A beautifully powerful post.

Kate @ BJJ, Law, and Living

Amelia said...

This is a great post...I never realized how much hard work and therapy goes into teaching children with DS how to walk and do other things.

Liz said...