“What We Lose”

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originally published on Tiny Donkey [defunct]
12 August 2015

What must a boy lose to become a little bird?

“What We Lose”, my first essay on Wren Awry’s dearly missed fairy tale essay website Tiny Donkey, is reprinted below.

What We Lose

What must a boy lose to become a little bird? In “The Juniper Tree” by the Brothers Grimm, the boy loses more than just his head and his life after he is murdered by the evil stepmother. All that fat and skin and tissue is sliced up, made into stew, and fed to his oblivious father. All that bone is wrapped up in a silk scarf and deposited under the juniper tree by his grieving half-sister. Then the tree works its magic and the boy is transformed into a living bird, a singing bird, a busy bird, a vengeful bird. He is without human arms, hands, and fingers, now that they are wings. His legs are tiny, and his feet are missing toes. His bones are hollow and light. His lips are now rigid beaks.

People lose huge chunks of self—limbs, organs, functionality, quality of life—to disease and trauma every day. Emerging medical technologies offer hope. 3D printed windpipes and other organs infused with the patient’s own cells.1 Mind-controlled prosthetics.2 Face transplants.3 A chemical cocktail to boost immune systems to better combat cancer.4

What do we have to lose? In the fairy tale, what the boy loses to become a little bird, he must regain to revert back to a boy. When finally he drops the heavy millstone on the stepmother and crushes her, he is immediately transformed back into a living boy, and he is reunited with his father and sister. Is this what new medical technologies offer us, a promise to regain what we have lost?

The protagonist in Sunny Moraine’s recent short story “Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained” grapples with a cutting-edge new prosthetic arm, an arm that may or may not be sentient, an arm that may or may not be offering friendship.5 When a medical breakthrough offers the possibility of fully regrowing the biological arm lost in a terrible accident, the protagonist ponders the question “The Juniper Tree” never asked. It is a question we all may ask as medical technology progresses to the point that it promises enhancements and new capabilities beyond that which we have lost:  What must a little bird lose to become a boy?

  1. Doctors Create A 3D Printed Trachea on a MakerBot.” 3D Print. 27 Jan. 2015. Web. 4 June 2015. ↩︎
  2. Prosthetic Limbs, Controlled by Thought.” The New York Times. 20 May 2015. Web. 4 June 2015.  ↩︎
  3. Face transplant.” Wikipedia. Web. 4 June 2015.  ↩︎
  4. Researchers hail new cancer treatment: Unlocking the body’s immune system.” CNN. 1 June 2015. Web. 4 June 2015.  ↩︎
  5. Moraine, Sunny. “Love Letters to Things Lost and Gained.” Uncanny Magazine. 2015. Web. 4 June 2015. ↩︎
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