2/11/13

Not who I used to be

It's simple biology, really, but with profound consequences.

Scientists tell us that our cells are constantly dying and being replaced by new ones. Some do this fairly quickly, wearing out in only a year or two. Some take longer, but within seven years all the old cells have disappeared and, in essence, a whole new me exists.

Yet memories continue, seemingly without interruption - except I know they become corrupted with time. I've had the good fortune to have written some journals when younger, and looking at them recently I was surprised at how different my memory of events today is from how I described them at the time. Maybe the memory cells make inexact copies in this aging process. Maybe memories disappear altogether.

I am not who I used to be in so many ways. As a teen I was deeply depressed - to the point of having suicidal ideation. I was miserable and could not imagine ever being happy, so why live? I've changed every cell in my body about seven times since that dark period. I'm grateful for having left the cells with those morose thoughts far behind.

So, physically, I am not the same person. That teenager disappeared long ago. And so did the child, and the young man. A new being "reborn" every seven years, and yet with a modicum of continuity for I still identify as me, myself, and I. Certainly, I have different desires, a different outlook on life, different hopes and dreams for the future, and yet whatever it is that defines me as "me" has not disappeared.

Perhaps the magic of this continual cell replication is our "shape-shifting" ability for which so many yearn. Maybe we can't magically change into wolves or butterflies, but we change nonetheless, which is better than disappearing completely (we'll save that final act of cell alteration for after we depart this life).

4 comments:

  1. We've been talking a lot recently about human nature because of the book discussions we've had at church after reading "God is Not Great" by Christopher Hitchens, and Christopher Hedge's response to hardline atheists like Hitchens and Richard Dawkins titled, "I Don't Believe in Atheists." Of interest was the idea that humanity was perfectible via reason (Hitchens) versus Hedge's feeling that people have less than helpful aspects to their personalities that won't change. The historical evidence is abundant for that, according to Hedges. I was appreciative of a review of Hedge's book by Carl Coon from The Humanist Magazine. Coon's thought was that, "science and reason tell us that human nature is durable but not immutable." Some good news there. We can progress. But I really like what Lee has come up with here. Although the idea is also from science, it is a more lyrical expression of who we are. We are are capable of change, literally. Every last fiber of our being renews itself. And if that isn't fantastic enough, we actually have that happen to us a whole bunch of times. Wow.

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  2. Hello Lee,
    It is hard to imagine you as the person you described yourself to be as a youth. Because today you are a visionary, with so much energy and talent and empathy. We are SO lucky to have you as our Pastor! I just can't say that enough! But I understand what you are saying. When I look back at old journals, I can't believe what I focused on and what I considered so important. My narrow little world was consumed with pretty much silly and unimportant things, while more important world events floated by with scant attention payed them. I'd like to go back and shake myself and tell me to "wake up"! I don't believe I even resemble the person I was back then, and I am somewhat glad to that. But I miss the old me in some ways. I was a dreamer, and spent lots of time outside. I thought the world was a wonderful place and that most people were kind and nice. I was naive in many ways, but very happy. Now I can only find time to walk a few minutes outside, and then hurry back in to attend to tasks. I find myself not as trusting, having met some nasty people in my travels. I am not naive at all. It seems that I am busy and stressed most of the time...gone is the dreamer. I'd like to have that happy, relaxed person back but she seems out of reach now...and time goes by so fast. My reincarnated self is perhaps more aware of things, more aware of injustice, and greed and hate prevalent in the world. And I want to right these wrongs. But I mourn for the parts of me that didn't survive the process of living..the me that used to jump and tumble and dance with joy and excitement, the me that used to stay up all night listening to the top 100 songs, the me that used to throw stones in puddles for hours, the me that felt safe all the time, the me that used to ride my bike down the road and back for hours while singing, and the me that put up countless pictures of Donny Osmond on my bedroom walls. I don't know that person anymore and I miss her. I'd like to believe that as I aged, I constantly improved and threw out bad habits while traveling ever closer to my best self possible. But that hasn't been the case. While I have improved in many ways, I lost a lot in the process. My shape-shifing was largely based on circumstance.

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  3. ^ Great comment! You are ouch a thoughtful amazing person, Chris.

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