The Squishy Brain

In early August, I began work at a big-girl job. This is a job that requires the application of all this education that I’m working hard to absorb. This is a job that means I can’t go on the free white-water rafting trip. I have been invited to an office birthday party. I have to dress up.

I’m working at a psychologist’s office in Rome. Administering and scoring IQ tests for mostly children, I get to play a part in the complicated process of helping understand a mind. Each test can take up to five hours, one-on-one with an individual. Once completed, I pull out what seems like a hundred different manuals and appendixes to score the completed tests. The people I have the absolute privilege of working with are not people with whom I have previously had much interaction. After the numbers are analyzed, the tests will diagnosis ADD, ADHD, Autism, and other so called “disabilities.”

The people I have worked with have taught me so much about life. And love. The struggle to read a word, whether six or forty-six, reminds me of the blessings I take for granted. Some answers make it nearly impossible for me to keep from grinning. Some answers make me want to weep, knowing that the five-year-old’s future will be filled with difficulties.

Because I am an indecisive overachiever, on top of starting a new job, I am working on an English degree that lets me take Literary Criticism and Theory. We’ve read Plato, Aristotle, Horace, Aquinas, Pope, and Johnson so far. These men are known for their brilliant minds. I cannot begin to understand the scope of half of what they studied. They wrote dictionaries. They started and they named philosophical movements. Yet it seems like half of their purpose is to disagree with the brilliance of each other, constantly reshaping an idea, molding facts, and making different senses of the same “human condition.”

Another class I’ve enjoyed this semester is Abnormal Psychology. We watched a video of a brain in class. The neurologist was holding the brain of someone who had just died. She pointed out the different areas that produce different thoughts, and we squirmed. My friend Hannah and I were talking after class, “Isn’t it funny that that’s our brain telling us that it doesn’t like the way the brain looks? Our brains are self-conscious.” For the first time, I realized something I have known all along: by definition and design, our brains are incredibly complex. They, the things that allow us to understand anything at all, are too complex for us to understand. And they’re squishy. The most significant piece of information I took away from that video: our brains are squishy.

From classes where I try to learn from the smartest of brains about the smartness of our brain to the office where I see evidence of brains unable to act to their full capacity, a Rich Mullins song has been playing through my head:

“We are frail
We are fearfully and wonderfully made
Forged in the fires of human passion
Choking on the fumes of selfish rage
And with these our hells and our heavens
So few inches apart
We must be awfully small
And not as strong as we think we are”

Over the summer, my phone was broken for a week. I didn’t know quite what to do with myself without people to talk to or apps to scroll through, so I retaught myself how to knit. By the time I had my little piece of technology working again, I had completed a scarf.

I first learned to knit in a Bible study my mom graciously led for her wacky thirteen-year-old daughter who would rather craft like a grandmother than do normal teenage things. When I was thirteen, I thought knitting was fun and something I could use to impress boys (In retrospect, I realize I have serious issues. What thirteen year old boy has suddenly liked a girl because she knit her own brown headband?)

When I had this sudden urge to knit again after seven years, I found the box with the yarn and needles buried in the basement. My newest scarf isn’t perfect by any means, but it is unbelievably better than my scarves were at thirteen. The magenta and lime green scarf barely fit around my thirteen-year-old neck. I have a bit more patience these days, and so my new sky blue scarf is long enough to loop around my neck twice. My young scarves have more holes than Swiss cheese. Now, they’re a nice, smooth cheddar.

With this return to knitting, this newfound fascination with the brain, and the drastic switch from ancient scholars to six year olds with autism, I have seen beauty in Psalm 139 that I failed to notice before:

“For you formed my inward parts;

you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are your works;

my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from you,

when I was being made in secret,

intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw my unformed substance;

in your book were written, every one of them,

the days that were formed for me,

when as yet there was none of them.”

For so long, I fear I’ve been selfish about these Bible verses. I’ve held them close to my heart and taken comfort in them, forgetting that there’s a world of people out there who might do the same thing. This verse isn’t just about or for me, it is for everyone. Everyone is fearfully and wonderfully made.

This Psalm applies to the forty six year old who can’t complete a sentence without tears and it applies to the top Platonic scholar. It applies to my professors, it applies to the children at church, it applies to the struggling mother I passed in the grocery store, and it applies to the neurologist who held a squishy brain. It applies to my roommates who make me laugh every single day, and it applies to the people I’m struggling to forgive.

We are all fearfully made. There’s a world inside our brains, complex and creative, but so easily damageable. So squishy and vulnerable, and yet there’s abundant evidence that the brain can produce and process thoughts that are great.

We are wonderfully made. The master knitter knew what He was doing. He does not drop stitches. He does not add rows. He has purpose. He’s not a thirteen year old loose with a pair of knitting needles, he is the author who creates with love.

Before I began work at the psychologist’s office, I placed too much emphasis on the classification of people. Though I did it unconsciously, it was so easy to think of people as either like me—relatively average and in the position to either admire the brilliant scholars or show love to the brains that are broken. If they weren’t like me, then they were one of the others, admirable (Aristotle) or almost pitiable. Now, I am starting to see the lack of difference. There’s nothing separating me from the people I’m testing. I’ve heard a thousand times that my next breath is not guaranteed. Well, my next sentence, my next thought, isn’t guaranteed either. Our minds are complex, and we are fearfully and wonderfully made, all of us.

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