Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Community of You

You think you're alone in that body of yours. Oh, but you're not alone, not by a long shot. You've got company. Not just a few guests, you've got a few BILLION guests. And I'm not talking about the few billion people on the planet - I'm talking about the few billion microscopic life forms that inhabit your very body. Do you feel like an independent, do-it-yourself kind of person? Well you may want to revise that idea as well, because the overwhelming majority of these critters are beneficial to your healthy existence, and many are vital. You are not alone.
I was fascinated to read about this in an Indian newspaper. The genesis was a book written in 1969 by Theodor Rosebury, "Life on Man." By the time we reach adulthood we may have an astonishing 50 TRILLION microbes (and 1,000 different species) in and on our body, gleefully inhabiting our darkest and most personal body-bits, where we wouldn't normally consider entertaining a crowd. 
You've probably heard of the earth described as Gaia, as a sort of living organism, and not the individual bits and bobs that we typically think of. I always thought that was a stretch, but look at the parallels to our body and its microbes. Your armpit is a Gaia all of its own, whether you include the rest of your body or the rest of the planet. Up to an incredible 90% of the combined cells of this amalgam we call a body are bacteria. Our vision of our cherished self probably doesn't include this bacteria that make life possible. But shouldn't it? Theodor Rosebury put it, "All life is a single community." And gene experts at Genomic Research claim that we are not entirely human, but "truly symbiotic organisms, relying on one another for life itself."
Where is this "separate self" that we spend most of our lives defending? If we believe in a self, shouldn't we know where it begins and ends? I ate porridge this morning with a mango cut up in it. As of yesterday, I'd never met this mango before. Now, that mango is not separate from me - it is me. Yesterday it was clearly not me, and today it IS me. How does that work?
Too much love,
Below are eight photos:
Hiding behind her sister, she's not so sure about me.
This kid had a really cute and playful personality.
Women with woven baskets walking up the trail, along the Pindari Glacier route.
A Hindu priest.
This man had a wicked and cutting sense of humor. He was hilarious, but you'd want to stay on his good side!
The daughter of two professors from Delhi.
This guy had been painting a utility tower. All the painters were covered in this silver paint.
They look like they're playing, but it's work. I tried pumping the water for a few minutes, and it was really hard. There are a tremendous numbers of houses without running water, and before the monsoon gets going, water outages are frequent in some communities.
(The End)