…Atoms, in short, are very abundant.
They are also fantastically durable. Because they are so long lived, atoms really get around. Every atom you possess has almost certainly passed through several stars and been part of millions of organisms on its way to becoming you. We are each so atomically numerous and so vigorously recycled at death that a significant number of our atoms- up to a billion for each of us, it has been suggested- probably once belonged to Shakespeare. A billion more each came from Buddha and Genghis Khan and Beethoven, and any other historical figure you care to name…
So we are all reincarnations-though short-lived ones. When we die our atoms will disassemble and move off to find new uses elsewhere- as part of a leaf or other human being or drop of dew. (From Bill Bryson’s chapter “The Mighty Atom,” in A Short History of Nearly Everything)
I consider myself a spiritual being, but I have no religious affiliations. When faced with the idea of death, I envy the religious- they have an unwavering belief of what happens when we die. Whether it’s the belief in heaven, nirvana or rebirth, at least there’s comfort in knowing what to expect. I’ve never had such a comfort- until learning (relearning, I’m sure I learned of atoms in high school) of “The Mighty Atom,” to quote Bryson.
When I picked up this book I wasn’t seeking any spiritual revelations (nor expecting such). I’m simply on an ongoing quest to better myself intellectually, as I mentioned in my previous post on learning in adulthood. I never considered the fact that science could provide spiritual comfort, much like religion does for its devotees. To know that my atomic makeup is simply recycled from those who came before me, and that those same atoms will continue to exist after I’m long gone has soothed my fear of death more than I ever thought possible. Furthermore, its provided me an overwhelming feeling of interconnectedness with the world around me, with those before me and those to come after.
There truly is beauty in this world, folks. Even if it’s as minuscule as an atom.