“Before criticizing someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you do criticize them, you are a mile away… and you have their shoes.” –Jack Handey
Stop motion photo of a girl jumping rope. A few moments of an individual life. (Photo by Harold Edgerton).
My advisor in graduate school, Mike Little, once shared with the class that he fantasized about a machine that would provide instantaneous biological data just by having a person walk through it. As he described it, the machine would work something like an airport metal detector, only instead of revealing any concealed objects, it would assess the types of variables that biological anthropologists salivate over –anthropometrics, body composition, blood pressure, hormonal profiles, presence of infections, etc. If only…
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.”
Direct ancestor/ descendants holding hands (my sons and I)
Digging a bit deeper, I was able to find that the quote came from acommencement speechJobs gave at Stanford University in 2005, about a year after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. By now, most people probably know that Mr. Jobs stepped down as CEO of Apple last week, and there has been speculation that this may tie into his past health issues. Such a close encounter with mortality would likely make any person pause and reflect on the big picture, and why it is that we ultimately share the same destination. I empathize deeply with Mr. Jobs,Christopher Hitchens, the people ofSomaliaand, well, everyone, since we must all one day confront the fact that our time here is finite. Death is the ultimate equalizer.
In re-reading a few books on evolution, it occurred to me that there is a common thread running through many of them, which is the reverence that the authors hold for life itself. Unfortunately, there exists an idea out there that to explain something in nature is equivalent to “explaining it away.” The fear is that this may deflate a person’s sense of wonder. But this is far from the truth. For example, the biological anthropologist Helen Fishercommented that her career studying the biology of love (by definition, one of the most romanticized topics possible) has done nothing to diminish her appreciation of it. The same applies for those who study other aspects of science, including evolution.
Eugenie Scott, Director of the National Center for Science Education, has written that for many laypeople the notion that evolution is an unguided, mechanistic process implies that “life has no meaning.” However, contrast that view with how many scientists write about nature. The sense of awe and reverence that they exude is palpable.