GUEST POST: Relating to Silk Moths and Dying Stars
by Emily Ryan
In the corner of my living room, in a white mesh enclosure the last of my hyalophora cecropia nears death. Tattered, her once swollen abdomen is emptied of her precious eggs and the stores of fats and lipids that nourished her is depleted. Even tattered and dying, she is heart wrenchingly beautiful. Her red and white body is furred and fluffy. Her six inch wingspan is painted with strata of orange, red, and white. She is the largest and most spectacular species of moth in North America.
The small flame of her life puffs out, but the cycle continues ever on. A few feet away from where she dies, 108 tiny eggs lay protected in a small box nearing closer and closer to breaking out into the bosom of life.
The universe is defined by these cycles. From the endless tiny tragedies and ecstasies that play out unobserved to the death and rebirth of stars, all that exists is united and intimately connected by the neverending cycles of life and death.
It’s natural to fear the void that surrounds it. We all dread it. Throughout history we have feared it so much that we invented heavens and hells, dreamed up reincarnation, and clung to any promise that the gift of life does not end with death.
In a way this is merely hubris, a lie that ultimately cheapens the miracle of life. Life turns ever on. The seasons change just as our lives run their course, and for just a moment we are lucky enough to participate.
What a sublime thought! What a soaring spiritual experience to consider the unlikeliness of our own consciousness. Endless time, marked by billions of millennia, and the dust of collapsing stars has coalesced to create for a short instance a phenomenon called life.
We are sisters to the stars, brothers to both plant and beast. We are the essence of the turning of the seasons. In a way, we never cease to be, as matter is neither created or destroyed. Your atoms continue on, endlessly reinventing themselves. And sometimes, rarely, they clump together in a silly thing called life.
Life is an exception to the rule. An absurd, beautiful, strange exception. For just a moment in the eternal cycles of matter, atoms have organized into cells, which have come together into a living organism. And somehow, beyond any expectation, we have been given the gift of consciousness.
For just a moment, let us consider ourselves in those terms, and cherish the days and seasons. From the delicate fluttering moth, to the neutron star, (and to you as well) we are all miracles dancing in the endless wheels of existence.
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In our back yard, where we have lived for nearly forty years, is a plum tree. Gradually, as I’ve aged, I’ve learned a lot from watching it cycle through the seasons: budding, then bursting into exuberant blossoms, dropping plums in its attempt to reproduce, and finally, surrendering its leaves to the winds of fall. Repeat. And repeat.
I’m an old man, and I fear death, no matter how philosophical I’ve become, but as I watch the leaves spiral down in October, I think “The leaves do not fear their fall; why do I?” The answer is, simply, ego: I am unique and irreplaceable- but so, in fact, was that leaf unique, but it did not (presumably) see itself as irreplaceable. How can I become as wise as a plum tree leaf? That’s what I ask myself.