The Body Forgives

By Elaina Smith

If you, O Lord, kept a record of Sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.

Psalm 130:3
The Record

Life’s meaning lives in a body. It grows with me, shrinks with me, and is buried with me when I return to dirt, my simplest form. Being raised Christian, I learned that my body came from ash. I came into this world dirty and must be purified through confession, and when I’m done, I will be called back to a place that’s supposed to be my home. I will find comfort in the unfamiliar. I will die and come back only to be judged. I will return to ashes.

I will always quantify my wrongdoings. I was taught that God measures sins in quantity, not calibre, that the murderer and the coveter are the same in his eyes. I’m afraid of forgiving myself. My therapist has told me that mistakes are what make us human and that I need to unlearn that being human is wrong, that this body is filled with ill-intent and letting it guide me through life will lead me into temptation. Maybe this body is meant to deliver me from evil.

This body doesn’t keep a record of sins. This body doesn’t need to be forgiven. This body does not need to be feared.

The Crucible

The meaning of life can be reduced to numbers on a page. Life isn’t so much a body but a series of digits. I remember sitting in the science lab with a handful of other college-bound juniors, waiting to take the test our entire high school careers had been leading up to. The girl in front of me turned to her friend and verbalized something I had been worried about for so long:

“Isn’t it crazy how our entire futures are riding on this one test?”

In 2016, the average ACT score was 21. I scored a 17. Translation: not good enough.

That number directly affected my chances of getting into college, which directly affected my chances of leaving my hometown, which directly affected my chances of finding a meaning of life that wasn’t artificial. Living in that town was living in a body that was not my own. Living in that town was living a life that did not belong to me and trying to forge a meaning that didn’t exist.

It took me 2 tries to get above a 20 on the ACT. I took the second test in a lecture hall at Ferris State University that could probably seat 100 people 2 months before college applications were due. The College Board archives your test scores, keeping a record of your sins. They only send your highest score to the colleges you apply to because, with them, there is forgiveness.

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(Story continued below)

The Sins

The meaning of life is how far this body can take me before sickness claims it. I step on a scale at the doctor’s office, and the nurse diagnoses me as healthy. I am the 38th patient they’ve seen today. I verify that I was born on 09/25/1999. I am 21 years old. I weigh 134 pounds. I am 5 feet, 8.5 inches tall. She takes me into exam room 3.

I’ve been having chest pains recently. How many times a day? Probably 5. How many glasses of water do I drink in a day? Probably not enough. But I have been dealing with panic attacks for 10 years now. How many therapists have I seen since then? 4. How old was I when they first started? 11. Is that too young to have panic attacks? The statistics say yes. I say no.

You can tell a lot about a person’s health from just a blood sample. My results came back in numbers that held a record of my sins, of all the times I’d neglected my body with fast food and minimal sleep. But who could judge me? The numbers required a translation from the doctor, who called and said everything looked fine. My body was finally able to rest.

Who Could Stand?

The meaning of life is to produce. A body at rest is a body that’s unproductive, and a body that’s unproductive is a body that’s worthless to society. I got my first fast-food job at 19. It paid 10 dollars an hour and was a 25-minute drive from my house. The store manager kept a record of my sins, watching over us on the cameras on her days off. We were allowed to take 5-minute breaks every 2 hours, as long as there were no customers in the store. If you stayed in the break area too long, Sue would call. If you leaned on the counters instead of cleaning, Sue would call. If a customer spent more than 30 seconds in the drive-thru, the regional manager would call. He could see the record of our times. Sometimes, the tills would be a few dollars short at the end of the day. Sue made us pay the difference if we were on shift. I think I ended up paying over 5 dollars to her. With her, there was no forgiveness. Therefore, she was feared.

Therefore, You are Feared

The meaning of life is to reproduce. This body of mine isn’t allowed to give up until it gives the world what it wants. A husband by 25. A mother of 2 by 30. I will destroy my body to create a new one. I will make every mistake a mother can make because once you’re in charge of supplying meaning for someone else’s life, it’s not about you anymore. It was never about me, to begin with. I’m 21, but my years are numbered on a clock that sits deep inside me. I was born with all my eggs. At 11, I started to lose them. At 45, there is a 50% chance that I will miscarry. Being a woman is a scale of whether or not I can live up to this body and the expectations you have set for it. The men I’ve invited into my room will keep a record of my sins. They will not meet each other, but there will forever be a number associated with them, attached to this body. You’ll never know what that number is unless I tell you, but I never will. With you, there is no forgiveness.

Therefore, there is Forgiveness

I acknowledge each part of my body. I listen to how the wheels turn inside it, a machine in contract with itself to keep me alive, until one day, it doesn’t. Until one day, it can’t. Until one day, a faceless God calls me home, removing me from my body, separating my physical from my consciousness like yolk and white. This body is equal parts miracle and failure and everything in between. This body cannot be quantified into pass or fail because it only speaks in terms of living and dead, flesh and ash. I won’t apologize for this body anymore.


Elaina Smith is a recent graduate of Grand Valley State University’s undergraduate writing program. You can find her on Instagram or Twitter.

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