I’m a Part of Something – Not the Center of Everything by Andrew Coenen

Gosh, it’s good to be back at college. Don’t get me wrong, I love being home with my dogs (oh yeah, and my parents too…), and college definitely isn’t the same when I can’t really interact with my friends here in person much. But my dorm is a five minute walk from the Mississippi river, and I gotta say, at home, I just don’t get views like this:

Fall may only last all of two seconds here in Minnesota, but dang is it beautiful. Seeing the river snake its way between the trees flushed with color, it reminds me of the things that stay the same. As wild and unpredictable as nature can be, in some ways, it’s kind of like clockwork. The grasshoppers are still hopping. The birds are still chirping. The flowers are still blooming. The river is still flowing. The rocks are still… well, doing whatever rocks do. Yeah, I know the world feels like it’s falling apart sometimes, but it’s really not. I checked.

About every five years, almost every single atom in your body is replaced with a new one. Your cells are constantly dying and replicating themselves, taking in new nutrients and expelling old ones, making repairs, making changes. The air you breathe, the food you eat, the water you drink, it becomes a literal part of you. From a physical standpoint, you are an amorphous blob of perpetually moving atoms held momentarily in your fragile form before being returned back to the environment from whence they came. And yet, though you are always changing, your identity remains the same. You are you. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Why do our lives end? Seriously, one could conceive of a universe where entropy doesn’t always win. Where everything is permanent, where we could continue to learn and grow and build into infinity without fear of forgetting or being forgotten, yet that’s not how our lives work. Why? I have a theory. I think it’s because we’re a part of something bigger. This universe, it’s a beautiful machine, and it’s always changing, cycling through parts just as your body cycles through cells and atoms. One brick can’t make a building. One gear can’t run a clock. One instrument can’t play a symphony. Humanity is but one cell in an unfathomable universe, and I suspect there will, hundreds or thousands or millions of years from now, come a time for this cell to die. But we will not die alone. We are not alone. The stones, the sky, the stars, they will still be here when we go. And as sure as the sun will rise, something else will be reborn to take our place. Maybe it’s just me, but that makes everything that happens in my life not quite so scary. Maybe it’s just me, but knowing I’m a part of something, not the center of everything, it gives me peace.

Although my home is blackened ash,

The sea breeze wanders ever on.

The ocean tide still ebbs and flows,

Yet I have nowhere I belong.

I lived on that eternal beach,

My toes have felt the water’s chill,

Yet though my skin sprouts flaws and wrinkles,

 The sands of beaches never will.

Amid the forest’s drooping boughs,

The pines that watched me as I’ve grown,

Are now as they have ever been,

The same as I have always known.

The grass sways as it has for years.

I play, I grow, I learn, I teach.

The lobsters swim with practiced ease.

I read, I write, I pray, I preach.

Nature speaks in lengthened sighs,

She wields her ancient force with care.

Man holds his dagger as a sword;

An ant who quarrels with a bear.

The ocean tide still ebbs and flows,

The sea breeze wanders ever on.

Because the Earth still surely spins,

I leave it for where I belong.

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