self-po, originally uploaded by pilgrimgirl.
In one of the more important Mormon temple rituals, your body is washed with water and anointed with oil. This washing and anointing is mostly symbolic--water and oil are only touched to a few points on your skin as sacred words are repeated by the officiants. However, what is most memorable about this ritual, is that the interaction happens after you remove all of your clothing.* The only item allowed to be worn is a wedding ring. For modesty's sake, your body is draped in a white sheet throughout the washing and anointing process.

When I received this ritual, it didn't occur to me to remove my artificial limb. Most likely that was due to the fact that I wouldn't have been ambulatory without it, and also because I was not sure exactly what the "rules" were about such things and no one clarified them for me (for the most part, these rituals are not explained beforehand, due to their sacred nature). Since then I've learned that women with breast prosthetics can choose to wear them during the ritual. I've never heard any definitive word on the wearing of artificial limbs, but I suspect that it is allowable.

Because of the staging of this ritual, it was not evident to the recipients that I was wearing an artificial leg until it was nearly completed, when the officiant bent down in front of me to bless my legs (while I was seated on a throne-chair). After undergoing the washing and anointing a few times, I learned to catch the gaze of the officiant as she reached out to touch my not-real leg. There was often a pause. Usually a knowing glance was exchanged between us as she continued on with the script of the ritual (were she to speak words other than those prescribed, the ritual would be deemed ineffective and would have to be repeated according the prescribed pattern).

In the moments after the ritual, as we waited for me to be escorted by an officiant to the next step in the process, there was often a moment for some whispered conversation. Usually the officiant would mention something about my leg, asking how did I lose it, or commenting that my prosthesis looked very lifelike (which was back in the day before I chose to let my robotic innards hang out).

Those ritual moments, are, for me, emblematic of how I view my relationship to my prosthetic leg. It seems as much a part of me as my tongue, or my eyes, or my liver. That I take it off at night and lay it next to my bed, doesn't make it any less "me." That it is a thing of metal and plastic and vinyl, doesn't make it any less familiar than my other leg and foot. That it sometimes makes an audible whirring adjustment sound when I walk through quiet spaces, is no different than the familiar creaks of my organic joints. That its parts are fabricated from components that come from all over the globe, and are assembled by workers in Germany and are fitted to my body by men in Orange County, doesn't make it any less me. Perhaps what makes it feel the most 'foreign' is the attention that my leg garners as I move through public space. It is the reaction of others that reminds me that I am different.

I suppose that being a cyborg comes "naturally" to me. I couldn't live my life normally without the microprocessor in my knee, or the metal crutches that I use when I'm not wearing my prosthetic. These tools are so much a part of my life that they are my life. They are familiar in the same way that my hands are on my keyboard. I don't think each time I type that I am sending letters from my fingertips to the screen and out to you. I just do it. Like that, I just walk. And stand. And move. The way that I do.

*Note: recently there were some changes to this ritual that include less physical interaction between officiant and recipient, and also how much clothing is removed beforehand. I am discussing how it worked back in 1992, when I first participated.

1 comment:

Chandelle said...

This is beautiful.

When I'd hear that one will be "perfected" after the resurrection - losing scars, regaining limbs lost in wars, walking after a life of paralysis, and so forth - I wondered if there would be any sense of loss in being returned to that state (or to experience it for the first time). Of course, I can't assume that anybody would prefer to use a wheelchair than to walk, to be blind or unable to hear, but as communities have come to "own" these conditions and to proudly identify by them, it makes me curious how they feel to hear of this "wholeness."

In high school I was good friends with a girl who was deaf. She was LDS and said that it offended her to think that she'd lose her deafness in the afterlife - specifically that she should want this, and be waiting for it. I'm not sure if this is how you feel...I just remembered that while reading this post.