Unidentified Man #1: I believe in the power of love.
Unidentified Man #2: I believe...
Unidentified Woman #1: I believe...
Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the importance of...
Unidentified Woman #2: I believe that everyone wants...
Unidentified Man #4: I believe in people.
Unidentified Man #5: This I believe.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Every Monday we bring you short statements of personal belief, many of them chosen from the more than 6,500 you have sent us so far. This week our essay comes from listener Kathy Dahlen, a single mother of two living on the north coast of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.
JAY ALLISON reporting:
In describing your core beliefs, some of you have written about the moments your beliefs were confirmed. Those moments often occur when death is near, when life and its meaning become more intense. For Kathy Dahlen, a crystalizing moment came near death, but not in the usual way. Here is Kathy Dahlen with her essay for This I Believe.
I entered college in the early 1970s and my belief in God and Christ were intact, but it was through an unlikely class that I became convinced beyond dogma of a powerful truth. Since I was an English major, I immersed myself in ideas and philosophies, but somewhere between Wordsworth's nature poems and Kafka's existential short stories, I felt a need to study something tangible, something in the world of blood, bones and cells. So I signed up for the class Human Anatomy and Physiology 101.
As part of the course work, our professor took us to an autopsy so we could see firsthand what had so far been limited to textbooks and drawings. When we entered the morgue, our voices dropped to whispers, our eyes drawn to the human parts preserved in jars lining the walls. In the autopsy room a male body lay on a stainless steel table. His skin was a waxy yellow, sunken, almost plastic. His mouth gaped. He was a suicide. The physician made a bloodless incision. A couple students on the outer rim of the group fainted. I managed to keep my ground and edged closer.
There inside, just as we had been taught, were the heart with its ventricles, the stomach still smelling of yeast, the bony frame, the paper-thin coils of intestine. For some reason, it struck me that all these parts and pieces didn't explain fear or lust, ambition or love. There wasn't an organ I could probe to uncover kindness or some tissue I could explore to find human will or the drive to make music.
The doctor folded back a part of the man's scalp and, with an electric saw, cut carefully through the skull. The brain lay exposed as though in a cocoon, creased and wrinkled by thoughts and experiences. Gazing at that mass of gray nerve tissue, I was unable to reconcile the evidences I had known of self-sacrifice and forgiveness or even the suicide with the notion that a human life consists only of one's biology. I know myself well enough to admit to yearnings, imaginings and thoughts that can't be reduced to chemical reactions or electric impulses.
The class, and particularly the autopsy experience, had taken me deeper than I anticipated. I had entered the study of the human body expecting to learn of our concrete physical existence. Instead, I discovered in a more profound way the human body as transitory and fragile and, by contrast, the soul as enduring. This elusive, yet holy, core whispers to me of God, of my ability to know and enjoy him. It compels me to look beneath the surface, to remind myself that, like me, the lady next door who scowls on her way to the mailbox or the kids who strut down the street or my atheist friend who enjoys a good conversation, each bear an undying soul and deserve compassion.
ALLISON: Kathy Dahlen of Squim, Washington, with her essay for This I Believe. We hope you will send us an essay for our series as Dahlen did. For information and to read and hear all the essays that have aired, visit our Web site, npr.org, or call for information (202) 408-0300. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.
BLOCK: Next Monday on "Morning Edition," a This I Believe essay from Interfaith Youth organizer Eboo Patel.
BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.