Recently, I have been helping guide the medical students’ dissections of the head and neck anatomy. The experience reminded me of a story I heard many years ago from one of my own teachers.
A famous anatomy professor, austere and distinguished, was invited to a formal dinner party. After the cocktails and hors d'ouvres had been completed, the guests were seated for the meal. The host, acknowledging the stature of the anatomist, turned and asked him to provide the blessing for the meal.
The anatomist, who remained calm on the outside, was inwardly apprehensive. He had not attended a religious service since his youth and had placidly led a long, solitary, and completely agnostic life. He had no idea how to properly return thanks in such a formal setting.
He stood slowly, bowed his head, and twitched his impressive moustache. The guests, in turn, quietly bowed their heads, anticipating his prayer. The anatomist, both sonorous and deliberate, slowly intoned: “Levator labii superioris alaeque nasi.”
He raised his head, smiled gravely, and sat down. Several guests congratulated him on the perfectly chosen and powerfully delivered words. The remarkable incantation outlasted even the wonderful meal.