30 June 2010

Echocardiograms and Twelve Million Years

I was lying on my left side on the medical bed while the technician performed an echocardiogram on me. An echocardiogram is a ultrasound of my heart. I was hooked up with wires and pads while she poked and jabbed at my ribs under which beat my heart. It was that she meant to be visible. Usually, I kept my eyes closed⎯the room was dark, there was little sound⎯and I didn’t really know what to look and listen for anyway. But occasionally I would peek up and look at the screen on which my heart was displayed. I could actually watch it beat, and I think I saw those pesky valves opening and shutting, albeit not as effectively and efficiently as might be. Hence, the echocardiogram.

And as I lay there I thought of the complexity of the mechanism—the heart that is⎯and the millions of years it took to develop. I lay on that table hoping at least for my three score years and ten, and considered the twelve million years of evolutionary foreground to this moment, and I felt a powerful sense of awe. I know it happened—I think we even know how it happened—but why did it happen . . . well, that is where I got lost. I have no teleological motive or answer for human existence, not even a religious sense for it. But today I was awed by the complexity of the human body, and overwhelmed by its development. And when I tried to consider my life—how central that is to my consciousness—and I put it in the context of the entire human history that goes back at least twelve million years, and I understood how insignificant the moment is. And I wasn’t afraid.


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