On Air, The Universal Glue
From David Suzuki's book, The Sacred Balance; Rediscovering Our Place in Nature, Greystone Books, 1997
The eminant Harvard astronomer Harlow Shapley once performed another thought exercise about air. He pointed out that while 99 per cent of the air we breathe is highly active oxygen and mildly reactive nitrogen, about 1 per cent is made up of argon, an inert gas. Because it is inert, it is breathed in and out without becoming a part of our bodies or entering into metabolic transformations. Shapley calculated that each breath contains about 30,000,000,000,000,000,000, or 3.0 X 10 to the 19th power, atoms of argon plus quintillions of molecules of carbon dioxide.Thanks to Keny on MySpace for pointing me to this excerpt, which I found at: http://www.fromthefourdirections.org/november02.newsletter.html
Suppose you exhale a single breath and follow those argon atoms. Within minutes, they have diffused through the air far beyond the spot where they were released, travelling into the neighbourhood. After a year, those argon atoms have been mixed up in the atmosphere and spread around the planet in such a way that each breath you take includes 15 atoms of argon released in that one breath a year earlier! All people over the age of twenty have taken at least 100 million breaths and have inhaled argon atoms that were emitted in the first breath of every child born in the world a year before! According to Shapley:Your next breath will contain more than 400,000 of the argon atoms that Ghandi 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 classic poets. We have argon from the sighs and pledges of ancient lovers, from the battle cries at Waterloo, even from last year's argonic output by the writer of these lines, who personally has had already more than 300 million breathing experiences.Air exits your nose to go right up your neighbour's nose. In everyday life we absorb atoms from the air that were once a part of birds and trees and snakes and worms, because all aerobic forms of life share that same air (aquatic life also exchanges gases that dissolve back and forth at the interface between air and water).
Air is a matrix that joins all life together. It is constantly changing as life and geophysical forces add and subtract constituents to the composition of air, and yet over vast stretches of time the basic composition of air has remained in dynamic equilibrium. The longer each of us lives, the greater the likelihood that we will absorb atoms that were once part of Joan of Arc and Jesus Christ, of Neanderthal people and woolly mammoths. As we have breathed in our forebears, so our grandchildren and their grandchildren will take us in with their breath. We are bound up inseparably with the past and the future by the spirit we share.
Every breath is a sacrament, an affirmation of our connection with all other living things, a renewal of our link with our ancestors and a contribution to generations yet to come. Our breath is part of life's breath, the ocean of air that envelopes Earth. Unique in the solar system, air is both the creator and the creation of life itself.
Another look at the issue of interconnectedness, by Iranian-born writer Azar Nafisi. "I believe in empathy." Mysterious Connections that Link Us Together: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4753976
To sit alone in the lamplight with a book spread out before you, and hold intimate converse with men of unseen generations--such is a pleasure beyond compare. - Kenko Yoshida