Science was never my thing, at school. Loathed it, completely. Seemed to be about neatly recording the right answers rather than anything real. Now, I can’t get enough of it. Still misunderstand it completely but that doesn’t stop me constantly clicking on stories about scientific advancements to feed my late blooming fascination with the power of science to change the world.
Probably the key moment when this turned around for me was at a party about ten years back, when a party guest was taking me through her philosophical approach to life. She was a scientist and had so far provided fascinating insight into a number of subjects.
“The way I see it”, she said to a bunch of us, “is that we’re all really just a collection of shells”. I thought to myself, “I like this woman”. I pictured the shells as she spoke, a delicate collection in the palm of a hand, and I waited for her to expand the metaphor. It took me a full three to six minutes to realise that of course she had actually said, “we are all really just a collection of cells”.
We are, of course, a collection of cells. According to the interesting scientist, those cells shift and move and become other things and once were other things and everything is kind of part of everything else or something, and not a great deal of it makes heaps more sense than if we were a handful of shells frankly. What it does do, though, this thought, is take the pressure off us all a bit. Leaves are made of cells too. So are shells, incidentally.
Here’s the thing. We are a collection of cells, or shells, or whatever, for a limited time only. The cells could have been organised differently. They weren’t. They’re the ones that make you. You’re the only combination exactly like you. If some of your cells had instead bound together with some different ones, you could be a tree or the minute hand on the clock in someone’s break room, or the Finance Minister or the bendy part of a vacuum.
So. Public Service Announcement: it’s not all about you. It’s all a bit of an accident really. You could be anything. How lucky are you!
You get pancakes and music and the sun on your back and velcro.
You get the smell of books.
You get incredible cloud formations and tissue paper and pineapple.
You get theatre and bicycles and the feeling of having just had a shower.
You get to stand in a crowd at a sports ground and care about a made-up thing with its own logic and music and community and humour and you get to eat hot chips while you do it.
You get the perfectly symmetrical, delicate beauty of the humble leaf.
You get donuts.
You get in-jokes and birthday wishes and sunsets and animals and stories about small people getting the better of nasty people.
You get water views. There’s a reason they’re coveted, but the rich people don’t get all of them. There’s something about a water view, even at the local creek, that brings down the blood pressure immediately.
Same with fire. Stare into a fire and try not to be slightly entranced.
You get your favourite TV show, and the people you talk about it with.
You get the occasional nice person behind you saying “take your time” when you’re flustered.
You get the feeling of your feet in the sand or your hand in someone else’s or your head in a book.
You get snow and kites and card games and that thing you can do where you put your hand out the car window and make wave shapes in the breeze.
You have heard the humans around you counting down from ten in a drunken bellow and you have looked at the fireworks exploding spectacularly overhead and you have thought to yourself, a year huh. I wonder what the next one will be like. If you’d been a tree, or the hand on a clock, or the bendy bit on a vacuum, or even, arguably, a finance minister, you would not have had the intellectual capacity to take in all that data. To be curious. To wonder. To quietly hope.
Public Service Announcement. You’re just a collection of shells. Delicate, individual, miraculous shells, the combination of which allows you to exist in the world. Congratulations. You get to be you.