As a scientist I am indeed only an ant, insufficient and anonymous, but I am stronger than I look and part of something that is much bigger than I am. Together we are building something that will fill our grandchildren’s grandchildren with awe, and while building we consult daily the crude instructions provided by our grandfathers’ grandfathers. As a tiny, living part of the scientific collective, I’ve sat alone countless nights in the dark, burning my metal candle and watching a foreign world with an aching heart. Like anyone else who harbors precious secrets wrought from years of searching, I have longed for someone to tell.
~ Hope Jahren
Reading Lab Girl by Hope Jahren was eye-opening for me. My father was a scientist and, like many children, I didn’t have much of a grasp on what he did all day. I knew he was researching chicken viruses in a lab at the university. Sometimes he would take my sister and me to work and I noticed all sorts of lab equipment, especially a special light he used to examine chicken embryos in their shells. I knew every couple of years he would be stressing about whether he would get funding for another couple of years. (He always did.) Once I tried to read his PhD thesis, but it was like trying to read a foreign language.
In this book Jahren, who studies plants, introduced me to the concept of curiosity-driven research. The scientist sets up and runs experiments to investigate whatever she happens to be wondering about. Any “real-world” applications of the results are not immediately apparent or sought. Collecting data is pure joy for her. She adds to the volume of scientific knowledge and leaves information for future scientists to make use of in their own research.
Now I get what my father was doing all those years! He may not have made any dazzling discoveries but he was an important ‘part of something that is much bigger than he was.’ Hope Jahren gives a very enlightening look into the everyday world of scientists, in words all of us will understand.
We are not just republicans or democrats, liberals or conservatives, moderates or extremists who have trouble finding or defining community. We are part of the great communion that embraces the living, the dead, and all who will come after us. Our ancestors – we share them if we go back far enough – have been rogues and heroes, courageous and cowardly, sung and unsung, hardworking and indolent, cruel and kind, mistaken and visionary. Ancestors are not just our blood kin, but the people whose beliefs, ideas, and creations have shaped us. Whether we know their names or not, they live in us as we will live in those who come after us, whether or not we have biological children.
As part of the preparation for voting – and as incentive to vote – we might do well to contemplate this communion, invoke the wisdom of the ancestors to help us keep faith with the descendants.
~ Elizabeth Cunningham
(Tikkun Daily, October 26, 2010)
The ancestral viewpoint is formative to the way society subtly changes over the generations. It helps codify the protocols, procedures, and customs that the present establishment upholds; it also forms a norm against which reactionary and reforming spirits can rebel. These two notions of conformity and rebellion, like two intertwining shoots about a sapling, define the growth of the trunk. The influence of our descendants is a more subtle one. We need inheritors to guard what we have established, but we cannot entirely dictate and mold them to our desires. Our descendants will modify and change what we leave them. The continuity of society is woven from many generational needs and influences. Only when we stand at the hub of time, as ancestor, self, and descendant concurrently, do we become fully aware of the contract that our partnership involves.
~ Caitlín Matthews
(The Celtic Spirit: Daily Meditations for the Turning Year)
One must say Yes to life, and embrace it wherever it is found – and it is found in terrible places… For nothing is fixed, forever and forever, it is not fixed; the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.
~ James Baldwin
(Fumbling Toward Divinity: The Adoption Scriptures)