Thursday, September 21, 2006

Hey Girl!

One of my favorite Far Side cartoons of all time is the one called Pre-historic Spelling Bee. One cave man is on the stage in front of the judges spelling “c-a-v-e”. The cave man who is next in line to spell a word has a thought bubble over his head that says, “Oh great. I’ll probably get Australopithecus”. This has always cracked me up because I AM that cave man with the thought bubble - my life is never easy.

But speaking of Australopithecus…

The news of the 3 million year-old little Australopithecus girl discovered in Ethiopia has really moved me, for some reason. What an amazing find. Out there in the badlands of a hot, dry country the fossils of the earliest well-preserved child ever found in the human lineage was unearthed. She’s even older than Lucy.

“Selam” as she has been named (meaning “peace” in Ethiopia’s Amharic language) was actually discovered over five years ago but it’s taken this long to unearth and study her before breaking the story. Her lower limbs support that she walked upright, her arms and shoulders are longer suggesting she probably retained an ancestral ability to climb and swing through the trees, her little skull is a bit elongated, and the presence of hyoid bone in her larynx suggests the origins of human speech.

I don’t know why this discovery has moved me so much.

Maybe it’s because this girl was three years old, just like Macy is now. This little goofy monkey-girl was probably just living her monkey-girl life, playing and loving her monkey-girl mama when something caused her to die. Maybe her mama grieved her death, just like we would do for Macy. But how grand to think that the little monkey-girl’s purpose in life was actually HUGE because 3.3 million years later she will contribute to our collective knowledge by helping us understand our past like no other living creature has to-date. How awesome is that? Who’s to say my little Macy, or any 3-year old you see today, might not have an amazing impact of their own in 3.3 million years? It’s pretty awesome to think about and for some weird, unexplainable Lori Holliday reason it just brings tears to my eyes.

Maybe I’m moved by this story because it plays into the reoccurring theme running through my pea brain these days that we really are all one. We have common ancestry. Here I am, able to go back in my family tree only so far as my great-grandparents. But when I have one of those stoner-gazing-at-the-stars-contemplating-infinity moments, I think that my great-grandparents had great-grandparents who had great-grandparents who had great-grandparents who had great-grandparents and I’m a result of all of them. We all go back and back and back and when taken to the extreme, at some point we go back so far that we weren’t even totally human yet. I was a monkey-girl! That blows my mind.

And maybe I’m fascinated with this story because I’m fascinated by time in general. The passing of time. The ways we mark time. But I think “time” is really a human invention. The earth isn’t really marking time – it’s just spinning on its axis and rotating around the sun like it has for billions of years – and we’re just lucky enough to be along for the ride during our infinitesimally small window of consciousness. When we’re gone, the big rock is gonna keep on spinning and someday our bones are going to be 3.3 million years old, too. There’s no beginning to time and there is no end to time. We all fall somewhere on the spectrum, just like Selam did.

For whatever reason I’m moved, I think it’s cool that we have one more way to better know ourselves and I just want to give Selam some confetti and a pointy pink paper hat, welcome her to the party and let her know that “this is all about you, girl!” Thanks.


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