Diary Excerpt, 25 July 2015

During church service today, the message reminded me of a diary entry I wrote two years ago and shared on Facebook. I dug through my old posts until I found it, and I want to share it now.

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I glance back at the rest of my cabinmates for a second before turning and walking farther up the mountain. The dirt is moist from the rain earlier this week, clinging to my boots as I walk up to the huge boulders.

The dirt…the boulders. Each boulder is composed by literally billions of molecules, each of which is in turn made of dozens of atoms. Atoms that are constantly spinning in never-ending cycles; atoms that have enormous amounts of empty space between them and yet create something so solid as the dirt I’m standing on.

Tendrils of wispy brown moss cling to the smooth surface of the stone: the moss’s atomic structures are infinitely more complex than the rocks, forming the cells that allow it to respire. I can’t see them, but I know that there are insects within the spongy pores of the moss. Even more intricately and wonderfully woven than the moss, the minuscule ants and aphids have cells that make up tissues that make up organs that make up systems allowing them to move, reproduce, seek out food, and communicate with one another.
Who are we to boast? Ants have built empires that last longer than any human civilization. And yet they’re powerless…how many lives do I end every time I take a step?

Zoom in farther.

The ants’ atoms are in turn made of protons and electrons still smaller; mere iotas of matter in an infinite universe. And for all we know, subatomic particles don’t end there. We can’t see them with our best microscopes, but what are electrons made of? Entire universes within themselves?

Wrapped in my thoughts, I realize I’m standing atop a particularly tall boulder. From here I can see the tops of the trees for maybe half a mile before another mountain peak blocks my view.

And I thought the boulders were big. I thought the moss was intricate.

The mountains are hundreds of times bigger than the boulders, looming a mile high above the plains that sprawl below. The trees rise fifty, sixty, eighty feet high; some have been here for centuries. The mountains themselves have been here far longer than that, the result of massive tectonic plates slowly colliding over millennia.

Each tree is its own mosaic of life. The mosses and fungi that grow in the bark; the small insects and invertebrates that make a home there; the larger ones that merely use the tree as a resting point; the squirrels that feed on the nuts; the birds that eat the insects before they in turn are eaten by larger birds; every tree is a galaxy in its own right. And each tree—pine, cedar, oak, sycamore, birch—every tree comes together into a new universe that we call a forest. The lizard that basks on the rock, or the rabbit that darts to its hole, or the deer that timidly peeks over a bush before darting away; they’re all a part of each other, and of us.

What is man that you are mindful of him, human beings that you care for them? You have placed him a little lower than the heavenly beings.

I look up to the skies. In the distance, a plane glides through the sky as it heads south for Los Angeles. That plane has over a hundred people on board. Each of whom have their own hopes and fears; their own dreams and nightmares; their own secrets, their own successes, their own failures. Their own journeys.

And they’ll make it to the airport where they brush shoulders with other people who have just as many hopes and fears. Most of them won’t even give a second thought to the blood cells running through the veins and arteries that allow their hearts to pump and let them live.

I look past the plane and see the sun.

It’s millions of miles away from us, and yet without it I would not see. It’s so far away that our planet literally freezes from lack of warmth; it’s so close that our planet literally burns from surplus of heat. Any farther, any closer, and life would not be possible.

And the sun is just one star. There are more stars than the human mind can comprehend in the Milky Way alone. Scientists have estimated that there are as many as four hundred billion. Maybe we can label the name, but there’s no way I can wrap my mind around how enormous that is.

And it’s small. The Milky Way is one of trillions of galaxies in only one universe. I can’t begin to understand how big it is. The numbers are staggering. An infinitely large number of stars whirling through the inky blackness known as space.

The galaxies expand before my mind’s eye, and I zoom back to the Milky Way, back to our solar system, back to that insignificant blue speck that we call home. I find myself on a rock, big in comparison to my own body; infinitesimally small in comparison to the earth, which in turn is infinitely small in the scheme of our galaxy.

But the boulder is huge. It’s more than five times the size of my own body. Hundreds of trillions of cells grow on the stone in the form of moss, and hundreds of insects living within and around the boulder.

The boulder and I are different, of course. But as I stand there atop it, I realize we really have a lot more in common than I would’ve thought. Within my own body is another galaxy of life; systems separate into individual organs; organs into tissues; tissues into cells; cells into molecules; molecules into atoms. To a blue giant, I am smaller than an atom. And to an electron, I am the universe.

How can something be so huge, and yet so small?