(written August 30, 2009)
“Living on borrowed time.” What does that mean? Spiritual teachings of many sorts and (if I remember correctly) science tell us that when something dies, the energy doesn’t just disappear, it manifests itself in some other way: reincarnation, decomposition, heavenly ascension, fossil fuels, ghosts, supernovas, food.
Each person, tree, animal, plant and planet is made up of atoms which are essentially embodied energy. Solidity is an illusion.
There is an ongoing global dialogue about planting trees to capture CO2 to help save the planet that we humans have quickly begun to destroy by cutting trees and by burning fossil fuels which are decomposed trees and other lives. Each time we plant a tree, carbon is collected and stored in its beautiful form, within the cells of its leaves or needles, the cells of its strong core and protective bark. Eventually, in the years, or in two thousand years, each tree will die and that CO2 does not just stay in the tree. As it decays and feeds the worms or feeds the fire, all that stored carbon- that embodied energy is released back into the air from which it was tree-vacuumed up in the first place. “Borrowed Time” for trees may simply mean that the tree borrowed carbon from the air in order to live for the limited time of its beautiful life. Its life-force lives on as it is drawn into the cells of other trees, insects, worms and bacteria through digestion or respiration. In that way, each tree borrows its energy from the trees that came before and lends that energy in turn to all that grows after. In that way, the ethereal carbon gas that once sustained the tree could, perhaps, be known as the “spirit” of the tree. When the tree dies, that once embodied energy, tree spirit becomes ethereal, a ghost-like invisibility that lives in and around those things that still maintain the illusion of solidity. In this way, the tree, the tree’s spirit is one of the tightrope strands on the web of life to which we are all connected.
When someone, say, a person, lives its (our) life with the illusion of solidity, deep down, at a molecular and spiritual level, we are embodied energy- much like our tree. We think and talk and move and laugh and cry and we use language to call that living. When we say someone is “living on borrowed time,” generally we mean that their bodies are staying animated against the odds. But really-aren’t we all simply “living on borrowed time”?
We, (the we that we know ourselves to be) were created from an unlikely union between two single cells with only half the required DNA to grow. Beyond reasonable expectation these half DNA cells merged together to form a single, and complete strand of DNA. They split and merged again and again until each split became beyond all odds, an ear here, a toenail there, a mucus membrane there, a heart here. The energy for all of this embodiment taking place came and still comes from the energy of those that came and died before: our mothers and fathers, beef, carbon exhaled and from decomposing things, oxygen exhaled by plants, lettuce, nuts, fruit, dandelion greens and bacon. In order for each of our cells to thrive, we take in and embody the energy of those other beings that we encounter. This energy brings us life as we know it. We are embodied energy, spirit, ethereal unknowns on an atomic and global level.
In this respect, aren’t we all “living on borrowed time”? Or, should we more aptly say that we are “living on borrowed spirit/enerty/molecules” or, should we say we are “living with shared energy, mixing time up because energy is timeless and we are simply energy embedded”?
As someone who believes in science, spirit, and in the unknowable unknown, it help s me to meld those beliefs into stories or explanations that make sense to me. Intellectually, I celebrate with joy the changing of the seasons and the miraculous circle of lives. But I still feel a sense of loss as I watch the trees lose a bit of that lifeforce each fall when they give up their green leaves for red, yellow and brown. Eventually, even those leaves that have transformed still die and fall to feed the Earth as compost- transference of embedded energy one leaf, one cell at a time. Going, going, going, gone but not gone at all.