But the essence of life is not so much the atoms and simple molecules that make us up as the way in which they are put together. Every now and then we read that the chemicals which constitute the human body cost ninety-seven cents or ten dollars or some such figure; it is a little depressing to find our bodies valued so little.
However, these estimates are for human beings reduced to our simplest possible components. We are made mostly of water, which costs almost nothing; the carbon is costed in the form of coal; the calcium in our bones as chalk; the nitrogen in our proteins as air (cheap also); the iron in our blood as rusty nails.
If we did not know better, we might be tempted to take all the atoms that make us up, mix them together in a big container and stir. We can do this as much as we want. But in the end all we have is a tedious mixture of atoms. How could we have expected anything else?
Harold Morowitz has calculated what it would cost to put together the correct molecular constituents that make up a human being by buying the molecules from chemical supply houses. The answer turns out to be about ten million dollars, which should make us all feel a little better.
But even then we could not mix those chemicals together and have a human being emerge from the jar. That is far beyond our capability and will probably be so for a very long period of time.
Fortunately, there are other less expensive but still highly reliable methods of making human beings.
Text from Cosmos by Carl Sagan
This photograph was taken by Desto of Ser Verdadero. Both the photograph and the mural's message deserve to be shared as often as possible.
Muralist Salvador Jimenez created the work with a group of young artists, ages 16-21, as part of the National Museum of Mexican Art's exhibit: A Declaration of Immigration in Chicago, IL. The exhibit featured over 70 artists, all immigrants to the U.S., and was curated by Cesáreo Moreno.
Though the exhibit and the mural both serve to depict some of the experiences and political struggles of communities of immigrants within the U.S., there is an essential larger message here:
No human being is illegal.
I don't know if you heard me. Let me say that again:
NO HUMAN BEING IS ILLEGAL
_No human being is illegal. Please apply that to everything. Always. Any scrap of dignity you feel entitled to for yourself should be given to every human being on the planet. No exceptions. I can think of zero circumstances in which dignity should be denied to another citizen of the planet. Or any other planet, for that matter. No human being is illegal. No human being is illegal. No human being is illegal. Keep saying it until you believe it. Now say it to everyone else.
...twice as big as it needs to be.
I spent a bit of time this week sitting in on a few middle school classes with which I soon will be working. As I listened to them discuss complex topics of monumental importance, impressed all the while by their eloquence and compassion, I was reminded of a moment in that very classroom two years ago that blew me away (names have been changed).
Each morning that year, the students spent a period of time writing. Students took turns bringing in a topic or a bit of inspiration (frequently a song or poem that they found particularly meaningful), and the class would set to work writing silently in the mood-lit classroom. After a time (there was no signal, just a feeling that enough time had lapsed), the student who had brought the inspiration for the day would begin reading their piece of writing aloud.
Others subsequently took turns, in no particular order and without raising their hands or waiting to be recognized in any way, reading their piece of writing whenever they were ready. Not every student shared their writing every day. Some wrote a lot, some very little, some only shared a sentence or two of their larger whole. Some students, too shy to share their piece, would pass their notebook to a neighbor to read aloud in their stead. Frequently, students were moved to tears by their own writing, or by listening to the words of their classmates.
On one particular day the inspiration piece included a reference to a glass half-full, or half-empty, I can't remember which. Many of the students' compositions followed that theme of optimism versus pessimism. One particular student, Carissa, began to share her piece.
Carissa was confident in her writing, and unafraid to share. Her thoughts were organized well enough for a twelve-year-old, but right in the middle of her soliloquy came this:
"The glass is not half-empty or half-full;
it is exactly enough water for one life,
and I'm going to drink it slowly."
_Her teacher and I exchanged glances across the room. He mouthed "Oh my god!" We both knew immediately that such a powerful statement—such a powerful idea—was one not easily understood by very many adults, let alone humans as young as Carissa.
Her teacher informed me later that part of Carissa's academic history included an IEP, or "Individualized Education Program," specifically for writing. Such programs are tailored to meet the academic needs of a student who struggles in a particular area for a variety of reasons.
It's hard to say when Carissa went from struggling with writing to eloquently expressing such powerful ideas, but a safe, respectful environment in which to share her writing aloud was probably a large part of it. If you ask Carissa, she'd say she wants to be a writer when she grows up.
Never underestimate the capacity of a child to think and express in profound ways. Never underestimate the power of a respectful and encouraging community to let individuals shine.
...makes me want to sit down with a nice cool glass of water. Or maybe half a glass...
The high-rise buildings that have sprouted up in the South Waterfront area have always seemed a bit out of place to me. The tall steel and glass structures don't seem to match what springs to mind when I think of places people might live in Portland.
I mean sure, it's green, but it's just so tall and glassy and modern...
And yet, these last few weeks as I pass by the development on my commute, I find that the collection of buildings, together with the tram are, in their own way, beautiful. It doesn't seem like they fit with the landscape, until you realize that the landscape isn't what they're supposed to fit.
They fit in with the sky and the river. Even on the greyest of days, in the least interesting mid-day light, the glass buildings make shimmers from the river reach up toward the sky, as silver light from above trickles down toward the water. Each building is different, and each alone might be an ugly tower, but collectively and from nearly any angle, they form a cohesive work of art.
And when it's not the greyest of days. When it's, say, near sunset, and I find myself in slowing traffic as I exit I-5 to navigate the maze of turns that form the approach to the Ross Island Bridge, those tall glassy modern buildings reflect simultaneously silver and the hues of the darkening sky.
Today's traffic was slow enough that I was able to take these shots out my driver's side window, occasionally taking my foot off the brake to inch forward in line for the bridge.