A Beautiful Email From a Former Student and Present Friend

Rocha,

If you are about to eat dinner, then put off reading this email. It is about dissections.

I have been in anatomy class for three weeks now. A huge portion of the class and my favorite part of it is the lab. For about ten hours every week we cut and pull, prod and poke, rip and tear and break a human corpse. It is simply wonderful. Often I am disgusted by what I am doing. It confuses me, challenges me, and disturbs me. Yet in and through these emotions I find beauty, so much beauty. I also find peace and humility. As I look at the disfigured and macerated face of the corpse I am dissecting, I cannot but laugh at my own efforts that morning to ensure my hair looked decent. Truly I find that we are dust, or in this case bits of bone and fat and skin and muscle cut away and dropped into a large black trash bag.

Today, specifically we dissected the cranial cavity and the spinal cord. It was beautiful. As my professor cut through the final covering of the back the spinal cord appeared. It is so small! How can it be that it controls everything that happens in us! It is beautiful to see the roots of the nerves extend off the main body like roots from a tree. I am the vine you are the branches, Truly the spinal cord is the preserver of everything we do.

And then the brain. What a hideous organ. A handful of worms! And yet one fissure of the brain between two different lobes is called the Sylvan fissure. The forest-like fissure. I looked at the brain as if looking at the trees during a forest hike. So wonderful.

The work to reveal these organs, the work of cutting through scalp (literally scalping a human body) and breaking open the cranium are by far the most difficult to stomach. One must wrench with a lot of force to pull these things apart. My hands ripped up someone’s scalp. How often had he run his hands through his hair?

And then after sawing through the cranium we used a wedge to split the top of the skull cap off with a loud “Crack.” This is dirty work.

But then at mass this afternoon I realized something very powerful. After the priest eleved the Eucharist for the second time saying, “Blessed are those who have been called to the supper of the Lamb.” He lowered Christ and broke him, with a crack. Christ’s crucifixion and sacrifice was dirty work too.

The work we do through this man’s sacrifice of his corpse is serious. It is a deep engagement with this beautiful body we have been given.

Love,

Bob