The Ransom Atoms are at Sea

atomCurse this storage unit. After a month of work on trying to empty it and dispose of its contents, I have ground to a complete halt. All the stuff that is left will either be expensive to replace, or more often than not, is simply irreplaceable – stuff that belonged to my now deceased father mostly.

I did find one thing that I do have to get rid of; indeed one of the few things of my Dad’s that he specifically instructed me to get rid of; not only did he tell me to get rid of them, but he told me exactly how to do it:

wpid-20150310_1222531.jpgHis ashes are to be spread upon the sea.

I actually had someone tell me a long time ago that they found his epitaph to be “silly.” Mind you, this is a woman who wouldn’t recognise a metaphor if it bit her. Assuming she thought about it at all, which is being generous, I can only guess that she took the word ‘swim’ literally; as in, we dump the atoms into the water and then we jump into the water after them and Voila’!, we’re churning right through them. She even went as far as to suggest that he should have used some awful, clichéd poem that every second person and their dog reads out at funerals. Did you ever notice how people who aren’t that bright, generally hold that everyone else is just as dim as they are?

The Ransom atoms are at sea, they’ll be there for eternity, he says, and so they will. A human being is made up of a staggeringly huge number of atoms; like seriously, just a shit load of ‘em; this many if you must know: 7,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000.
It’s a lot sure, but the point is, there’s nothing else; every one of us is just a walking, talking, conglomeration of atoms that somehow managed to become conscious – and no one knows how that happened…except the religious types of course. They know everything! ‘Cause God did it.
‘How’d the moon get up there Daddy?’
‘God put it there Son.’
‘How’d all those dinosaur bones get buried in the ground Daddy?’
‘Son, God put them there 6000 years ago when he made the earth.’
Such an unsatisfying answer. Isn’t it just way more exciting to acknowledge that some things are so stunningly complex that we simply don’t yet know!? Humans know an enormous amount; at the upper end we’re incredibly smart, resourceful and enquiring, and this makes it even more awe-inspiring when a question crops up that stumps everyone.

Actually, there is something else in us besides atoms: empty space. Atoms are 99.9% empty space; which means that you too, are 99.9% empty space. Now that’s easy to believe if you’re talking about some people’s brains – not mentioning any names… woman who thinks a metaphor is a type of sports car – but it’s almost impossible to believe when looking in the mirror. So if we’re 99.9% empty space, why can’t we just put our hands right through ourselves? Because the electrons in each atom are spinning around their own tiny nuclei so fast, that there’s a ‘shell’ created around each one. It’s weird as hell right? So when you sit down, you’re not actually touching anything; what’s happening is that your atoms, the atoms that make up your body, are repelling the atoms in the chair, while the atoms in the chair are madly repelling you – you’re actually floating above the chair on an electromagnetic field.

Here on earth, we tend to take atoms for granted. Atoms make up everything: the air, the water, the clouds, light, sound, cats; you name it. It’s impossible to find anywhere on earth where there are no atoms. But out there, out in the depths of the endless universe, there are unfathomably HUGE regions where there is truly nothing. There is no sound, no heat, no stars; there is utter, complete darkness – there are no atoms. It is the kind of nothingness that you and I can only try, and fail utterly, to imagine. In the face of this horrifying loneliness, atoms decided very early on that they better stick together, and through various forces, that’s exactly what they did; they clumped together in such huge numbers that the heat and pressure of them all caused their spontaneous ignition into stars. Inside those stars, some atoms (just as some people would do in a similar close proximity to other people situation) hook up with each other and create new types of weird-ass atoms. Then, finally, after a very long time or an incredibly long time, the star explodes and sends all of its atoms off on a very exciting interstellar journey – it’s spring break for atoms.

Humans are made up of a combination of extremely old, and extraordinarily old atoms. The extraordinarily old atoms, about half of the atoms in you, are hydrogen atoms which have remained unchanged since the time of the Big Bang – which I’m sorry to tell you religious types, was not 6000 years ago, but 13.7 billion years ago – and when I say they have remained unchanged, I mean that they are the same atoms. The other half of your atoms are carbon, oxygen, or nitrogen atoms that were made by fusion inside stars, and spewed out across the universe when those stars died, billions of years ago. Believe it or not, earth had a mother star, a super giant star that was hundreds or thousands of times larger than our Sun. When our mother star exploded about 5 billion years ago, she showered our section of the galaxy with atoms, which eventually coalesced into not only our beautiful planet, but also much of our solar system.

Virtually every atom that makes up you is a ‘stable atom’, which means that they will go on existing for eternity….or until the universe ends. The really smart physics nerd types have postulated a time frame for the end of the universe, but it’s so unfathomably and absurdly far away from now that there’s just no point mentioning it, suffice to say that if you counted all the atoms in the entire universe, the number would be waaay smaller than the number of years away it is. All life will be well dead by then though, because in about 100 trillion years there won’t be enough hydrogen left in the universe to create stars; thus no energy and no living. But fear not; relatively speaking today’s universe is so young that it’s more of a blastula than an infant – we’ve got time; not so much as individuals, but certainly as a species.

There is a 100% chance that billions of the atoms in your body have formed part of the body of another human over the last several thousand years. With absolute certainty, billions of the atoms in your body have been part of millions of other life-forms during their time here on earth. Believe it or not, you contain at any given moment about 200 billion atoms that were once inside Shakespeare. The bad news is that about 1 in 7 of your Shakespeare atoms originated from his excrement. Whilst they are living, humans are constantly losing and gaining atoms through eating, drinking, perspiring, excreting and the occasional amputation. With the exception of amputation, there is generally equilibrium between loss and gain. When someone dies however, their atoms are dispersed, one way or the other, into the troposphere, the oceans, the land, or biota. They are returned to the pool so to speak. They are made available for uptake by other living creatures and non-living things.

The point is that all of our atoms are on loan. They are not ours, they are infinitely existing self-contained little units of energy that were forged in a fiery explosion that occurred billions of years ago in the darkest depths of the universe, made their way across the universe to earth, and bonded with a whole bunch of other atoms in just the right combination to make you. And when you die, they don’t! They go on to make up something or someone else.

It seems generous of them to stick around with you for so long, but you have to remember that on their timescale, your entire lifetime is shorter than the shortest blink of your eye that you could ever hope to blink. Maybe they do it because they get bored. God knows I’d get bored, hanging around inside a star for billions of years waiting for it to quit with the fusion and finally die and explode already… I imagine the little guys must be very excited indeed when they finally get out. They’d be looking for something completely different, something that doesn’t require any kind of time commitment, and definitely something that doesn’t involve fusion. They’d be looking for the weirdest situation they could find, and I imagine they can’t find anything in the universe weirder than a self-aware, self-absorbed, carbon-based life-form; a life-form that does wacky shit like swimming, dancing and having sex.

What joy that must be for an atom after billions of years of nothing but fusion and flying through empty space, to form part of you. I bet after all that time dead, they must just want to do as much living as possible, burn the candle at both ends for a while. After all, the next stop for an unlucky atom could be forming a piece of rock, and hanging around inside that for a few billion years. So maybe our mission here on earth is just to show our atoms a good time.

About 4 billion years from now, the sun in its death throes will start to grow, and it will gradually become so large that it will completely vaporise the earth. At that time all of the earthly atoms, including many of those that once made up you, me and everyone who ever lived, will have to leave their adopted home and continue their eternal journey. The universe is a big place, but I can’t imagine them ever finding a home more wonderful than this one.

And so you see we are all connected, and we are connected not only to each other but to all living things, to the planet, to stars, to the universe itself, and to all of time in both directions. Our component parts have literally lived forever, and will live on for eternity. Not is some hippy, religious, “let’s all hug” kind of way, but in a real, measurable, scientifically sound way.

And when I pour these ashes into the sea, the atoms that once formed my father that have not already returned to the pool of available atoms – which is only a small number of them – will eventually turn into atoms forming something else, be that air, water, earth, or a part of another living entity. The Ransom atoms will again be floating about in the great sea through which we are all swimming: the sea of existence.

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