June 27, 2018
‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.’ —Psalm 139:13-14
In the July/August 2018 edition of Atlantic magazine, Nathaniel Comfort reviews Carl Zimmer’s new book She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity.
My first thought, prompted by the book’s title: What if your mother disappears? Daughter keening for mother is a force with potential to break our hearts, wake us to outrage, move us closer to wellbeing for all. Wellbeing for all. It’s a vision, anyway. Without a vision, the people die. Without justice tempered by mercy, without critical thinking tempered by tenderness, the people die. If we won’t wake up and stay awake, we die. All at once, or a little at a time. So the prophet said. Poor prophets, never popular! But still they call it like they see it, those daughters and sons of the living God.
I remember when my own mother died, sixteen years ago. Her sprightly mind had been gone for a weariness of years. It was time and past time to rest. But when she left, I was bereft. Even at 48, full grown and philosophical, the soft animal of my body cried out for mother.
reaching for mother, 1954
Back to the book review. Here’s a paragraph that charmed me:
All of the heredities—chromosonal, mitochondrial, epigenetic—still don’t add up to your entire you. Not even close. Every one of us carries a unique flora of hundreds if not thousands of microbes, each with its own genome, without which we cannot feel healthy—cannot be “us.” These too can be passed from parent to child—but may also move from child to adult, child to child, stranger to stranger. Always a willing volunteer, Zimmer allowed a researcher to sample the microbes living in his belly-button lint. Zimmer’s “navelome” included 53 species of bacteria. One microbe had been known, until then, only from the Mariana Trench. “You, my friend,” the scientist said, “are a wonderland.” Indeed, we all are.
Mariana Trench. That’s deep. Ha! I wonder if God is smiling at how long it took us beautiful rowdy children of mothers to investigate a belly-button and find a universe. Life-long learning in service to God’s highest–that’s our heritage, and our calling.
All the heredities, all the flora, adding up to ‘you.’ You, my friend, are a wonderland! Did you know that if we could take the DNA in your body and stretch it out in a line, it would reach all the way to Saturn and back—seven times! Or so they say.
Speaking of Saturn: a few years ago my alert and ever-helpful brother informed me that the Cassini spacecraft had taken and sent back to Earth a close-up photo of a profound oddity, namely one of Saturn’s moons: Phoebe. He offered headlines: “Scarred, Cratered Old Surface Points to Checkered Past.” “Saturn’s Moon Phoebe: Old, Beaten, and Still Mysterious.”
Enchanted, I hastened to research and write an essay about this eccentric skull-shaped moon of Saturn, keeper of cosmic secrets, veiled until now. She of the tilted, retrograde orbit, circling Saturn ‘backwards’. She who by some reports came from the outermost edge of our solar system, to join Saturn’s other moons. Part of the circle, but keeping her distance–keeping to the vulnerable outer edge, flinging icy debris with each hit she took. The mother of Saturn’s rings!
So I’m thinking, what might my “navelome” reveal? I do have some thoughts on that.
‘This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears all nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.’ And underneath, the everlasting Arms!