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Unnoticed miracles: Embrace what you can, and cannot, see

“A pearl is a temple built by pain around a grain of sand. What longing built our bodies and around what grains?” – Kahlil Gibran, (1883-1931) Lebanese poet and philosopher

MARQUETTE – As human beings, we have a funny way of disconnecting ourselves from all kinds of realities.

Take for instance the minuscule, eight-legged Demodex mites that are nestled down inside the follicles of our eyelashes right now, feasting unnoticed on skin cells.

They’re not alone. We share our bodies with about 90 trillion microbes at any given time.

While it’s kind of creepy to think about independently operating mini monsters running around our mouths, intestines and hair follicles, it’s also amazing. We are all, collectively and individually, ecosystems within ecosystems within ecosystems.

It’s not even so much that we share our bodies with these creatures, but, in so many ways, we are them, and they are us, and all these interacting living systems have been coexisting harmoniously (or not-so-harmoniously) since the dawn of life.

If you want a laugh, look up the tardigrade, or “water bear.” He’s a hardy little specimen a half millimeter in length that lives in every known part of the planet and looks uncannily like a bear and a pig had an eight-legged baby.

They can live up to 10 years without food or water, survive insanely extreme temperatures and withstand ionizing radiation hundreds of times the lethal dose for a human. They are also strangely adorable.

As a person who is sometimes unexpectedly plunged into anxiety, despair or (the worst) boredom, I find it useful to arm myself with these incredible realities to broaden my sense of any situation. It’s reassuring to know I’m never really alone and that things aren’t really what they seem.

Another amazing fact: our environment and experiences change our DNA, and those altered genes are then passed on to our children. Science calls this epigenetics – in a sense, the fusion of nature and nurture. It means the actual experiences of your parents, grandparents and beyond, are still alive inside your genetic code, manifesting in the way you think, react and behave.

It’s interesting how obsessed we humans are – in light of all this sprawling interdependence between beings and generations – with blaming and punishing each other for things.

We’re hard on our kids, our parents, our friends and especially people (and beings) that don’t look like us. We’re especially hard on ourselves. It’s sad, and it’s counterproductive. Isn’t life hard enough?

Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist and author, says when we’re faced with difficulty, we should remember: it’s not anyone’s fault. It’s just how things shake out. But that doesn’t equate to some kind of moral free-for-all. Just because it’s not your fault doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility.

We share this gorgeous, incomprehensibly gigantic (and miniscule) living ecosystem – we share it and we are it, and that’s easy to forget. But none of what is supposedly “wrong” with it or you or me or warring nations or anything else is anyone’s fault. That’s too reductive. It is, however, our responsibility to pay attention and do our best.

Because we depend on each other and this ecosystem, we should treat each other better. Past, present, future, big, small, tardigrade – we are all in this together.

Someone I love bought me a collection of Kahlil Gibran poetry for Christmas, which has been echoing around my head lately. Here’s a good one:

“It was but yesterday I thought myself a fragment quivering without rhythm in the sphere of life.

“Now I know that I am the sphere, and all life in rhythmic fragments moves within me.”

Editor’s note: Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.