I am writing from the hospital, as I wait with my family for the newest addition to the family. My eldest sister is ready to have a baby.
I don’t have any kids. But my family is big and getting bigger and it’s so awesome. My birthday was last week, and with every passing year, there is another bit of life and experience that I carry with me. But having a new baby join the family is a reminder that, when the world turns and I grow a year older, someone else arrives to start from the beginning. People growing older, people being born, the circle of life and all that jazz.
It got me thinking. New York Times Magazine had an article sunday about The Immortal Jellyfish.
“Known officially as Turritopsis nutricula (and sometimes as Turritopsis dohrnii), the minute creature has the ability to transform its cells back into a youthful state. As National Geographic puts it, the jellyfish transforms “into a blob-like cyst” that grows into a polyp colony — the first stage of life.
From there, the jellyfish continues a conventional life cycle, maturing and mating. Instead of dying, however, the immortal jelly reverts, time and again, back into the polyp colony. That ability “allows the jellyfish to bypass death, rendering [it] biologically immortal,” notes Hongbao Ma, a researcher at Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.”
Stay with me.
In a quite literal sense, these jellies have achieved immortality, but “…their immortality is, to a certain degree, a question of semantics. “That word ‘immortal’ is distracting,” says James Carlton, the professor of marine sciences at Williams. “If by ‘immortal’ you mean passing on your genes, then yes, it’s immortal. But those are not the same cells anymore. The cells are immortal, but not necessarily the organism itself.” To complete the Benjamin Button analogy, imagine the man, after returning to a fetus, being born again. The cells would be recycled, but the old Benjamin would be gone; in his place would be a different man with a new brain, a new heart, a new body.” (a new jelly?)
There is a preoccupation with eternal youth and the quest for immortality. We humans have not yet figured out how to revert back to our polyp colony (no matter how many plastic surgeries …) but in a way, every new baby is that. A donated bit of DNA, born new onto the planet to replace the DNA that came before it. The butterfly turning back again to the caterpillar.
While still remaining a butterfly. The best of both worlds.
Maybe Turritopsis nutricula are the unlucky ones, stuck bouncing back and forth between old age and infancy for always (how do they grow from experience?), while we humans experience our immortality while realizing our mortality. Because we don’t revert back. We remain, and we witness. Seeing the birth of the beautiful next generation, the birth of hope, of newness, and of perseverance, and the birth of a huge and infinite potential for our future.
Eagerly awaiting the arrival of my family’s future,
(Note, this was written last night, before the birth of our newest, smallest, dearest family member: Adeline Erli, all nine pounds four ounces of her, with mother and baby healthy and well (although shell shocked and sleep deprived, both)).