something old, something new, something blue
September 1, 2009
There was a time when I could pick up any object, stare at any thing, think about anything, and soon enough it would reveal itself to me, it’s self being evidence of life, role, meaning, tracings, connections — a small stone on a beach on Block Island — I would hold it in my hand, round, smooth, a particular weight and color, density, hardness, and I would start to feel/see/imagine the motions of the waves, the sand, the stone being rolled and knocked, rolled and knocked, for years, decades, since before I was born, for centuries ? — made smooth and polished, this one stone. And I’d think of the time when it was part of some larger stone, some rough chunk of rock, being crushed by the weight of ice, being pushed and rolled, pushed and rolled, the way I used to walk and kick a can in front of me, but slowly, inches a year, the can-kicking, can-crushing slow-motion glaciers of the last ice age which scoured the ancient rocky mountains of what we call New England, decapitating, breaking, crunching, crushing. Water crushing stone. Flowing ice shaping mountains, flattening, rounding, smoothing, reducing, reducing.
You can see where this leads. This little stone, warming in my hand, round, blue, polished, was once part of some great mass of solid rock mountain jutting up into the sky. This one little stone has a story tens of thousands, millions (?) of years old – as do every one of the other stones that lie on this beach. And the story keeps stretching back, elastic, to the forming of the mountain, its lifting, to the great floating plates of the earth’s crust, colliding and crushing, lifting and diving, back to the formation of the crust itself, when the planet was young and hot, molten, when the rock was on fire and flowing, and still further, back to the formation of the planet itself, and even this goes back, to the death of a star, some particular star that we shall never see, never find in the night sky, some very particular star that died, that in a final paroxysm of light and heat, collapsed into itself in a great fury of fusion which forced all those light elements like hydrogen and helium with their single and double proton nucleuses and one little shell of one or two electrons to jam together and form the wide fat spread of heavy rocky elements, great chunks of stone and metal, some of which formed themselves into a great sphere which found itself spinning around some new, young, baby star.
Do you realize that the elements in that stone in your hand are older than the solar system? Older than the sun? That the elements that make up the earth are older and heavier than the sun’s? What we think of as the earth was once a vast debris field drifting loosely in space. The heavy molecules that comprise the stone in your hand were once in that debris field. But that is also true of the hand that holds the stone, your warm hand, the molecules in your finger bones, your skin, your blood, transmuted, cooked, reformed, thrown up as flesh, your atoms too were once in that debris field, which means that your electrons were once spinning happy and hot in that particular star, not just any star, not some star, not a generalized star, but that particular star, the one we will never see in the night, because we are it.
Nowadays the question is, what else does that mean, if anything? Does it matter that we are all, in some real sense, one? That we are all made of the same stuff, and that the stuff is really old? So what? Does it help us live together? Live well? Or is it just a fluffy thought that runs through your mind when you pick up a stone?