In his 1967 essay "Breathing the Future and the Past", astronomer Harlow Shapley wrote:
"Your next breath will contain more than 400,000 of the argon atoms that Gandhi breathed in his long life. Argon atoms are here from the conversations at the Last Supper, from the arguments of diplomats at Yalta, and from the recitations of the classic poets. We have argon from the sighs and pledges of ancient lovers, from the battle cries at Waterloo..."argon atoms associate us, by an airy bond, with the past and the future...
"Our next breaths, yours and mine, will sample the snorts, sighs, bellows, shrieks, cheers, and spoken prayers of the prehistoric and historic past.."
That concept first crossed my radar when I read it as paraphrased in "The Snow Leopard" by Peter Matthiessen:
"each breath we take contains hundreds of thousands of the inert, pervasive argon atoms that were actually breathed in his lifetime by the Buddha..."
By Shapley's math/philosophy we are in an intimate relationship with everything that breathes or has breathed. For what can be more intimate than a shared breath?
In contrast to this inescapable intimacy, like most creatures, we are extremely territorial....and, like most other species, we mark our boundaries with sign.
Like bears reaching their height to claw mark a tree...or cats backing up to scent mark as high as possible...or Daffy Duck defiantly wrapping his arms around a pile of cartoon gold and squawking "mine, mine, mine!"...we go to great lengths to define what "belongs" to us.
Human signs may be literal: "no trespassing", "don't touch", "no parking","keep out"...marking boundaries of geographical property "ownership". We often take that one, or two, or ten steps further, though. Our boundaries and "territory" may be political, theoretical, theological, ideological, artistic, intellectual, social, racial or sexual.
Maybe George Carlin put it best: "My shit is stuff and everybody else's stuff is shit."
What is it that makes us so determined to draw lines and build fences on the ground, in the air and in our minds?
We scream for our individuality and independence...but, in reality, we are a species that moves in bands, herds, tribes, cliques, teams, gangs, societies and committees. Most people seek to gather with like minds...be it over politics, religion, music, race, fashion or myriad other "clubs". Do we require "them" to define "us"...or do we need an "us" because we are afraid to stand alone?
Darwinist vs Creationist...Democrat vs Republican...rancher vs environmentalist...good vs evil...straight vs gay...fundamentalist vs athiest...PC vs Mac...black vs white...and there it is, the bottom line...black and white.
So many people seem to long for everything to be as simple as "black and white".
It begins on the simplest level...Mom/Dad, good/bad, hot/cold, inside/outside, red/green. As we gather more information, we subdivide the categories further and further...simple dichotomous forks become complex systems of branches.
Black and white is far easier to grasp than the infinite shades of gray and innumerable hues of color that paint the countless planes of reality.
But what would happen if we could forget about the black and white for a moment and immerse ourselves the plethora of colors in between? If we could stop auto-labeling and begin trying to cultivate empathy and understanding?
Every individual has their own unique perspective on life...their own set of dreams, experiences, hopes, tragedies, sorrows, accomplishments, failures, beliefs, fears, desires, struggles, passions, losses and loves.
How do we learn to find some common ground via our archetypical similarities rather than pre-judging based on race, gender, religion, fashion, politics, geography, sports, ideology or whatever?
And maybe, just maybe...with a little compassion and cooperation, we could channel our "superior intelligence" into finding non-violent solutions for the problems facing this planet and ALL who inhabit it.
So, take a deep breath...