Hello Rob Bell + thank you for this writing
Wednesday 18th November 2020 @ 11:43 am
I make no apology for posting such a large section of someone else’s writing. Unusual for my blog. But this is Rob Bell. And he writes magnificently. And by me posting it, you might read him, and maybe even read more of his thoughts in more of his books after. And by doing that, his ideas and inspiration and observations can go wider, and wider. This piece of writing is a glorious reminder that you are special. Connected. Unique. Gathered. Holy. Whole.
So make no mistake, this is not from me, but from a much better writer + thinker. Hello Rob Bell.
We only ever learn that there’s more out there, in here, around us.
We’ve only ever just been getting started. Which brings us back to death.
There is death at the end of life, but for you to be here there was death, lots of it, millions and millions of times over, at the start of your life.
We don’t know what happens when we die.
But no one knew what was going to happen when you were born either.
Who you would become.
How your life would go.
What you would do.
What would happen to you.
There’s a mystery about what you’ll experience at the end of your life, and there was a world of mystery there at the beginning of your life.
This is why new parents spend hours and hours sitting by that crib, staring at their new baby.
What have we created here?
Who is this person?
What is this life going to become?
The questions are intoxicating. You can think of little else.
What a teacher, those new babies, showing us what kind of universe we’re living in.
Somewhere around 250 million of your father’s contribution died in the creation of you. That’s a lot of deaths.
So who knows if your death at the end of your life isn’t another beginning much like all those deaths were?
Because ends always generate beginnings.
Speaking of your beginning, only 20% of sperm have what’s considered a decent shape—some have two heads, 90% were dead within the first half hour, and at first your mother’s body thought your father’s contribution were intruders.
Her immune system went on high alert because of how foreign your father’s contribution appeared and then tried to kill them with deadly acid.
To be clear, the part of you that comes from your father your mother’s body tried to exterminate in their first encounter.
The complexity is staggering. Your mother’s body has systems in place to identify possible threats to her health, and these systems are extremely efficient in their ability to destroy these threats. But within these efficient systems are also the capacities to identify when the first assessment was incorrect and the perceived threat was actually an emissary of new life.
Your life has gotten rather complex over time, right? Bills, stresses, relationships, trying to figure out what you’re here to do, trying to raise a kid, understand yourself better, do the right thing in sticky situations.
Your life was complicated long before you got here.
You were swimming in complexity and mistaken assessments and ambiguity from the beginning.
Having survived that near extermination, the sperm then had to travel. If your father’s contribution was scaled up to the size of a human, it had to reach a destination two hundred miles away.
Right away it had to travel through the cervix, which has endless channels that don’t go anywhere, like climbing a ladder several miles high only to discover that the ladder isn’t leaning against anything.
At which point it’s too late to turn around and climb down and then climb up another ladder only to learn that that one—you get the point.
About 99% of sperm never get past the cervix.
Then the uterus, which is like a vast open plain.
At human scale it’s roughly two miles long and a half mile wide, and the sperm needs to find one particular opening, which is about two heads wide.
At this point about one thousand sperm are dying with every heartbeat.
And then the sperm meet the leukocytes for the first time. The leukocytes sound a bit like the name of an obscure religious sect—but we’re not talking about sects—they’re white blood cells that protect the mother’s body by hunting foreign invaders.
They move in gangs and they’re larger than sperm and when these cells hunt sperm down they decapitate them.
So there’s that.
And then, eventually, if the sperm survives
—although we’re talking about you so the sperm did survive—
it arrived at the fallopian tubes where to gain entry it had to display what can best be described as proper swimming ability.
Like an audition. Or interviewing for a job.
Your mother’s body had to determine if your father’s contribution had the right moves.
I know. I’m thinking the same thing. We’re simply describing the facts of a known and verified process that happens all the time all around the world and has been going on for tens of thousands of years and yet it’s almost impossible to not read it at some other level. Cells and cervixes and movement and attrition and systems designed to protect and preserve and then somewhere in your mother’s body there was a biological/chemical/physiological process that assessed your father’s sperm’s movement— that evaluated whether it was good enough whether it passed, whether it measured up— there’s something about describing that particular process that weirdly sounds like, well, your mother and father.
She did assess his movements at some point, didn’t she?
Not just cells and chemicals but … what? …
And then, at the end, after all that travel and all those acids and gangs and distances and against all those odds the sperm gets near her egg.
A bit about that egg.
Your mother started with somewhere between one million and two million eggs. By the time she and your father got together she had around one thousand. And that one egg was going to appear for those few days in the month—
We need to stop there and note for the record that her monthly egg–releasing cycle was influenced—like every woman everywhere since forever—according to the sequential, unflappably consistent movements of
the … moon.
I’ll type that again out of sheer admiration for the unexpected oddness of this particular relationship:
To be clear, the female body has an intuitive synchronistic alignment with a rock floating in space 238,000 miles away.
She’s a woman, a human being, right here among us in flesh and blood, and there’s also something about her that is planetary.
Take a moment, and put your hand on your heart.
You feel this, this body you have?
You have a body, you come from a body, a body that has a connection with a celestial body hundreds of thousands of miles away. T
here is something universal about us, something as big as the solar system present within us.
When you can’t be at an event that you wish you could be at, sometimes you tell the people who will be there, I’ll be with you in spirit. What do you mean by that? You won’t be there, but you will?
And yet we all know exactly what you mean.
Sometimes someone we love dies, and the next time we’re at a place that we used to be at with them, we can sense them with us. Like they’ve left, but they’re still there. Of course. They’re with us in spirit. This body you have, the one that you have your hand on right now, your body is something that is happening within you.
Sometimes people talk about the body as the exterior boundary of the self. You have a body, and then within your body may or may not be a Spirit or soul or ghost in the machine or whatever, depending on your view of these things. But you possess Spirit, and Spirit extends way, way beyond the body. Your body is something happening within the far larger phenomenon known as you. And central to this phenomenon of having a body is our inherent connection with the sun, moon, and stars.
The connections, they’re endless.
Back to earth, to that one particular egg.
It appeared in that narrow window during that one month, but it didn’t go away. It stayed, and when it sensed that the sperm was near, it sent out a signal to the sperm that helped the sperm swim that last bit of distance by boosting it into what is known as a hypermotile state.
I love that.
Something within her helped something that came out of him to achieve a hypermotile state.
Her system is highly calibrated to protect her from invaders.
She has a number of processes that can be immediately instigated to spray something with deadly acid or chop off its head. You know, lethal. She is fierce and protective and strong.
But then this one little fella— that seems like the right word here, doesn’t it? —this one little fella survives, he endures, he just keeps going while his …
once again, let’s find a word … while his colleagues?
Seamen. That’s it.
He just keeps going while the ones he started with are dropping out left and right.
Over two hundred million down, dead, lost—and yet this one little fella keeps going.
He goes and goes until there’s this moment when he’s close enough to the egg that the egg senses his closeness—
The egg senses his closeness?
The egg is … aware?
The egg … knows?
The egg senses he’s close and helps him.
Let’s stop and enjoy that for a bit.
There’s a moment when he’s gotten far enough, his endurance and resilience and indomitable onwardness— I am so fond of that phrase I’m going to repeat it and bold it: There is a moment when his indomitable onwardness has gotten him to the point where she no longer treats him as an invader but those very systems that were previously calibrated to take off his head switch and now these systems through chemical signals and careful guidance work to bring him to his destination.
In the end, the one she hasn’t killed or confused or worn out or blasted with deadly acid or ignored through sheer indifference to the insurmountable odds he’s facing— that one she helps finish his journey. Like she was ready for this one. All this happened to make you, you?
That little fella struggled, mightily, and overcame the odds.
That already happened, for you to be you.
Is this why stories of people overcoming great odds move and inspire us?
Is this why stories of compassion, caring for each other, looking out for the vulnerable, stir us so much?
Because this has been happening since our beginning, in our beginning. It’s built into the fabric of creation. These two energies— that indomitable onwardness energy that just keeps going regardless of the odds, and that listening, sensing energy that takes care of the one in danger— these two energies were inextricably intertwined, working together, in harmony, for each of us to be created.
These energies are cosmic,
they’re the yin and yang of creation.
They bring it into being, hold it all together, keep it balanced.
We’ve been writing about and singing about and discussing and noticing the dynamic interplay between these two energies for thousands and thousands of years.
And for you to be you, they met and embraced?
No wonder you sometimes have big dreams for your life.
No wonder you lie awake at night with huge questions.
No wonder you sometimes feel like your heart is going to burst with the fullness and depth of life …
before you were even born the most primordial creative energies of the universe were coming together to bring you into existence.
Let’s pause here, because something happened a few pages back that we should note. We were humming along there following the reproductive process—that phrase takes a bit of the sexy out of it, doesn’t it? The reproductive process. It’s just so technical, so dry, so lifeless—even though that’s the phrase we use to describe this utterly astonishing phenomenon of a human being created. Which is my point. I was using rather straightforward terminology from biology like sperm and egg and motility to describe this process as accurately as possible. And I could have turned up the knobs a bit, using words like chromosomes and pheromones and amoeboid cells and macrophages, and I could have even mentioned the ampulla. And with more terminology and more description we would have had more and more detail and information about how we each became us. But then a few pages back I started referring to your father’s contribution as a little fella. And regarding your mother’s responses to his efforts I added a her and a she. In referring to the sperm as a little fella, that is accurate—one sperm measures 0.05 of a millimeter. (The smallest thing you can see with your unaided eye is 0.1 mm.) So yes, little. But fella? Sperm don’t have gender, they’re cells. And yet we went with it. Her and she and his and little fella. And what that did is made it feel a bit more like a story: His journey and her strength and the obstacles he faced and the help she gives aren’t technically how you’d describe it, and yet at another level, in another sphere, we know this story. These aren’t competing descriptions, they complement each other. They dance together. This is one of the great gifts of science—taking things apart, breaking them down to their smallest components, showing us with precision and detail how it all works. And this is one of the great gifts of art—putting things together that you wouldn’t have thought to connect. It’s just a sperm cell and an egg, but you start talking about them like it’s a man and a woman and it’s absurd and strange and yet it resonates somewhere within you—you find yourself thinking,
Keep going, I want to see how this one ends …
[Bell, Rob. Everything is Spiritual: A Brief Guide to Who We Are and What We’re Doing Here. Hodder & Stoughton. ]
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