The changing nature of the world around us is refreshing and reassuring.
Those who wish to live forever would look at such changes with trepidation and pessimism. But it is understood that all living things play their earthly role in a fine balancing act and then fade away without disturbing or depleting the intricate tapestry of nature.
I shudder at the thought of an unchanging world. We will be crowded and every scrape and every mark on the surface of the earth will remain for eternity like the craters on the surface of the moon that have been there for eons.
A walk on the beach can bring into sharp focus many of the certainties and uncertainties that we face in life. Playful children building sand castles and couples strolling along the shore leave their amusing and pleasurable marks on the sandy canvas only to be washed away by the endless rhythm of restless waves. Each receding wave leaves behind a smooth and glistening surface, inviting yet another castle and another set of footprints. This ebb and flow also unfolds a bit of the vast world that exists under the waves: a piece of a seashell, snarled seaweed or a lonely starfish.
While making my temporary footprints in the sand, I often look for perfect seashells. Occasionally hidden among the saltwater debris, I find them. They remind me that all of them were, at one time, part of a living creature. They served a purpose, moved on and left behind their ornaments for us to look at, enjoy and ponder.
For many of us, a beach walk awakens a metaphysical connection with the sea. Four hundred and forty four millions ago we crawled out of the deep blue as primitive marine animals to continue our climb on the evolutionary ladder. Perhaps in the deepest recesses of our primitive brain, we still have the vestiges of an encoded memory of our early evolutionary history.
Perhaps it is our own transitory nature on this earth that fuels our quest to understand the links between the present and the past. Like the mysterious shells on the beach, when we come across a shard of ancient pottery we wonder what that piece represents: a cooking pot, a drinking vessel, a pitcher? When looked at with the wide-eyed curiosity, the small fragment assumes a much bigger place in our psyche. Just like seashells, the pottery fragments also link us to our past and so do fragments of an ancient bone or skull unearthed by wind and erosion in a ravine in Africa. What did Lucy, the first biped hominid to walk on land 3.2 million years ago in Ethiopia, think when she drowned in her watery grave? In her case it was not ashes to ashes and dust to dust but water to water.
Once, while on a beach, I was deep in thought looking for shells when I heard a voice ask, " Are you looking for gold?" A kind lady with a gentle smile had interrupted her walk to ask me the question.
"As a matter of fact, I am," I told her. "I am collecting sea shells for my granddaughter Hannah. Once she understands how intertwined humans are with the sea, this will be worth more than their weight in gold."
In the massive scheme of evolution, we humans are but a small cog, albeit an important one. Like time, the process of evolution marches on uninterrupted and unabated towards an elusive biologic perfection. In the meantime some of us and our coming progenies will continue to search for perfect seashells on sandy beaches and try to piece together the beautiful mosaic of life.
S. Amjad Hussain is a retired Toledo surgeon and a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org