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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Lost in the Parts

Today the biology teacher brought a frog, fresh from the neighborhood lake, into the lab. We were going to learn about what makes frogs work - how they digest, eliminate, breathe, reproduce - to discover the essence of frogginess."

The frightened little thing moved nervously in the teacher's hand, hopped onto the table, gazed wonderingly in all directions, gave an occasional "croak" to the amusement of the class. We were excited. All eyes following the movements, delighted by how closely it resembled the cartoon frogs of our TV experience. We oohed and ahhed and giggled and screamed. Occasionally there was even a moment of reverent silence when one of our crowd, talking quietly, seemed to have established an instant of rapport. The movements of our hands, our bodies, mimicked our tiny subject. We were animated, questioning, intrigued.

But then something changed all that. Under the skillful knife of our instructor, we watched the life force, with the sticky frog-blood, oozing from our victim. The time had come to get down to the real business at hand - to dissect, to label, to describe, to preserve the tiny frog-heart in clear, liquid solutions. We had to watch carefully because tomorrow we would have to do the same. But somehow, we really didn't care. This was not a frog. In pulling back its familiar warty skin it became an objectified mass, a lump of slime. No longer were we amused. This was messy business and the fun had left.

We left the class with a neat list of drawings, a rack full of samples adequately preserved, a full page of notes to be transcribed into our workbooks. But we also carried away a funny taste in our mouths, a tension behind our eyes, and a feeling of sadness that in seeking to understand the parts, we had lost life in the whole. —Frank Young

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