Consider the Atom

A B-29 Superfortress zips through the sky, and drops Little Boy over Hiroshima.  They let go of  Fat Man above Nagasaki three days later.  The atomic blast mutilates fifty thousand people in less than ten minutes.  Ions erupt across a Japanese cityscape.  Billions of protons, electrons, and neutrons fly in every direction.  Skyscrapers evaporate.  An albatross nest explodes into a thousand splinters of wood.  The ground implodes.  A woman screams.  Her baby has no face.  The city is dead, and filled with flames, and ash and pain.

In high school, teachers taught me atoms for weeks.  They dissected them like pigs with their markers on the whiteboard. The nucleus is in the center of an atom, and holds ninety nine percent of an atom’s mass.  To picture the nucleus imagine a swimming pool filled with thousands of marbles.  Some are hollow, and float on the surface, while others are dense, and sink to the bottom. The nucleus is everything in the pool, all the water and all the marbles. I studied protons, neutrons, electrons and the periodic table of elements; yet I still have no clue what an atom looks like, what an atom feels like, or what an atom really is.

I was told the universe is composed of matter: humans, books, oak trees, and stars.  All matter is composed of infinitesimal units of energy called atoms. Every atom has three distinct parts: the protons, neutrons and electrons each controlled by various elements. Atom is derived from the Greek word automos meaning: indivisible. Early scientist believed these tiny units of energy were so small that physically diving them would be like attempting to split a grain of salt with an axe. During the 19th century German chemist discovered this wasn’t the case; atoms were divisible after all. Nevertheless, the name stuck.

Energy never dies.  It’s recycled in circularity, always in constant motion– reinventing itself.  A bird dies in the winter, and becomes a chrysanthemum the following spring.  A blue danio is engulfed by a dolphin, as it glides through the ocean. The dolphin’s liver digests the fish’s matter, and oxygen molecules are carried to its heart, and brain. The dolphin breathes for one moment longer, and glides another nautical mile further, tooting and shooting water out of its blowhole into the air.

The human heart beats seventy times in a minute.  An infant’s heart beats ninety.  A hundred thousand quiet taps a day.  Forty million thumps in a year.  Three billion soft knocks in a lifetime.  Each moment something dies, a child’s heart beats for one second more, every light thud delivering a clean burst of oxygen to their miniscule hearts.  Children will sleep in their beds, and the cricket’s that chirp from the edge of her backyard will bare traces of the hummingbird that once floated outside my bedroom window.

Though malevolence is elephantine to goodness, natural beauty — delightfully aesthetic design — floods out ugliness.  A million sins committed, a million good intentions.  Each one deliberate, and alive. Each one: a killer or friend.  Each one muffled by the glance of a child, a star burning out — a supernova that burst and breaks, and splits through space.  Ten thousand times the size of earth.  A hundred billion lumens of light, yet too distant, too many light years away to see from the window in the front of my house.

A small pigeon died last Sunday, and a thousand little ants fed from its brain and heart.  Every ant, full bellied and wonderful, filled themselves with one more breathe, one more step; and carried another grain of sand to the anthill.  We’re all atoms bouncing, and bumping, and feeding off one another.  Every individual: a pismire on their way to pay the bill or build a home–never stopping to ask, what’s your name, or where do you hurt?

A child is born. A blind man sees. A deaf girl speaks. The universe is electric. People call these miracles, and perhaps they’re right. Molecules pop, and zing, and burst in an instant, and a woman gives birth.  Her baby has sapphire eyes, and hands like bumble bees.  The child kicks and cries, and stares at her mother’s oval face. Electrons in the baby’s chest vibrate through the blood thickets in her heart, dancing in all four chambers. Each chamber: a tiny compartment, the size of an eyeball bursting with protons of raw emotion.  The woman cradles her baby and whispers, lower your breath sweet child.  Rest now.  Let your heart beat slowly.  Thirty beats more than a grown man each minute—so small, and precious, and fragile.  So delightfully unexpected.  Each infinitesimal atom of energy that shivers in her heart was once a dandelion; and the ten beady toes on her feet were almonds, and rivers, and emeralds.

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