Here’s a fun fact to wonder at: Depending on how you look at it, either 10 percent of you or 60 percent of you is 13 billion years old. Yes, that’s “billion” with a “b.”
“But wait,” you say, “I’m only 14” (or 44 or 104 or whatever age you happen to be when you read this).
That’s true, from a certain perspective. But from another perspective, you’re truly ancient.
After all, about 60 percent of the atoms that make up your body are hydrogen atoms, and these atoms account for about 10 percent of your body’s total mass. According to the best scientific models we have, hydrogen atoms have been around for over 13 billion years, since just a few cosmic moments after the Big Bang. Hydrogen atoms were the first atoms to form–and now they help form you, mainly as two-atomic-thirds of H2O, the molecule we know as the liquid of life.
The rest of your body consists almost entirely of oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorous, with tiny bits of a bunch of other elements thrown in to spice up the stew. None of the atoms in your body is new. The ones that aren’t hydrogen were formed in the cauldrons of ancient stars and have been around for billions of years themselves. Still, the ones I’m most impressed by are the hydrogen atoms, the elements of you that have been around–almost literally–forever.
Why? Because I think the hydrogen within us reveals something we all tend to forget: that we are part and parcel of the cosmos, that–from a certain perspective at least–we each contain within us the entire history of everything.
Whether you wind up believing in the Gospels, the Upanishads, the Koran, the Talmud, or none of the above (or some of the above, or all of the above, etc.) we are all part of a universal whole that simultaneously transcends and subtends us–and not only us but everything we see and touch and feel. And not (or not just) in some spiritual, new age, metaphysical sense, but literally, physically, actually.
The universe, with all of its physical reality (and all of its mysteries), is there in every cell of your body. If you could look inside those cells and see their elemental contents, and then trace the history of each of those elemental contents back through time, you would find yourself connected in unimaginable ways to unimaginable things. To ancient stars and distant galaxies. To the earth, the wind, and the rain. To the ground of all things.
You would realize that you are, without question, a remarkable creature of the cosmos. And that’s a fact worth remembering in a sometimes-alienating world.
P.S. The fact that part of you is 13 billion years old does not mean that you’re allowed to watch R-rated movies. Nice try, though.
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