Shock and awe

The truth is, while I personally hate to lecture, I thoroughly enjoy attending them — even when the lecturing occurs in the backdrop of my increasingly confused state of mind. This was the case when the professor who taught a biomechanics course that I took during my early undergraduate years delivered weekly lectures on tensile strength of bones, on torque and tension, and many other related topics, nearly none of which took root in my memory.

One of the only lectures that I recall with significant clarity had to do with the differences between the bones of adults and children. In brief: children’s bones are more flexible.

Physiologically speaking: over time, cartilage becomes calcified bone and levels of collagen decreases. Some bones become fused as time passes, which is another reason that a child’s body contains more bones than a typical adult skeleton — 300 compared with 206.

But these facts are the ones I just googled. What I remember — the story I recall with precision and that I have often produced as a narrative party trick is the following scene:

In the large, newly renovated lecture hall, Prof. X began drawing on the white board with a black, dry erase marker. He reached up high above him and drew a line about two feet wide and then ran the marker straight down, his lines produced a rectangle.

He pointed to the board with the tip of the marker, leaving a floating black mark near the rectangle and resumed talking, gesticulating with all of his appendages to convey a simple and yet remarkably intricate point about the human body: “If you or I were to take a fall, we would probably be badly injured or die. If a baby took the same fall, he would most likely bounce!”

This enthusiastic declaration had a graphic chaser — Prof. X indicated a “bouncing” motion with an exaggerated check mark that resembled the path said baby might take were it to engage in the aforementioned fall. The very notion of bouncing babies seemed to fill him with a peculiar delight that hardly ever surfaced again.

Babies bounce. This was the major takeaway from my three semesters as an engineering student. So while kids fracture their bones more easily, they also heal more quickly. Youth truly is nature’s balm.

And thus perhaps the cautionary notes I received from well-meaning loved ones about aging and bone fragility were not entirely off base.

But bones repair themselves, cuts heal (faster with the aid of some ointment), and we regenerate in many ways, including the fingernails I routinely slice, chop, or otherwise injure when getting lost in a rapid julienne or a distracted dice. (I’ve spent the past two weeks in full amazement while watching nail enamel form where just days ago flesh was peeking through; the shock of hurt, in awe of the heal.)


I suspect that if I had stories of bouncing babies or, as my high school physics teacher used to do, if I had concocted grand narrative metaphors for deceptively simple principles of physics that involved (no joke) action figures, wind-up motorcycles, and homemade ramps… then I might like to spin a yarn or two, as well, during class. For now, I’m comfortable sticking my pedagogical public with questions to ponder and invitations to engage with readings and texts through art and media…

The shock of falling, thankfully, is soothed with the awe of healing.



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