I watched the first of three segments of the PBS series “9 Months That Made You.” This first episode offers a profound view of the first 8 weeks of human development at the cellular level. Scientists have made significant discoveries about what happens from the moment of conception that goes into what makes each of us who, and what, we are. I look forward to watching the next two episodes.
The question as to what we are can be interpreted in so many ways. Are we our education, career, country of origin, skin color, gender identity, sexual orientation? Are we what we do… artist, dancer, gymnast, swimmer? Are we our behavior … kind, compassionate, lying, cheating, loud, quiet, sneaky, altruistic, transparent, vulnerable, egotistic? Are we our political affiliations, social concerns, or are we our family of origin, or the family we create, or the friends we choose?
I think the answer is all of these, and … so much more than these. The images of those microscopic cells multiplying, dividing, determining in those first few days and weeks of our formation so much about what we will become are not dissimilar from photos of amazing nebulae and star formations … from which all life has formed. These images remind me of our deep time connection with every molecule on earth … and beyond. Life is such a mystery, and yet, we continue to uncover clues that take us closer to understanding the mystery from which we come and to which we return, again and again, as biological beings in this wondrous web of life. And with each new clue we uncover, the mystery seems to become even more complex.
What am I? I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, sister, and aunt. I am a minister, a colleague, a friend, and a team mate. I am a hiker, knitter, dancer, artist and musician. I am white, a baby boomer, a social and political liberal, and I am always a learner. And when any of these identities weigh me down, or feel too constricting, or I begin to take myself or life’s challenges too seriously, I remember that I am but a very small part of the great mystery of life … that I have arrived here from the unknown, living a life that I can only know in part, and I return to the unknown. I am cosmic dust, or, in the words of Peter Mayer, a “snowflake in the cosmic storm.” Humanity is but a “quarter note in the march of time.”* Ultimately, when I return to what I am – an infinitesimally minute speck in the timeline of the universe – this is a source of humility and perspective that allows me to take myself lightly, lay my worries and arguments aside, and savor the beauty and joy that is present when I pay attention.
*Peter Mayer, “My Soul”