The elements that make up your body have been on our planet Earth for billions of years. Earth is what is known as a closed system, meaning all the matter on Earth tends to stay here.
Since the 1960’s, this has been broken. Earth’s elements have been intentionally left on the Moon, in space, and on Mars! Parts of Mars, the Moon, and asteroids have also come back down to Earth, guided by robotic missions.
But, generally speaking, almost everything that’s on this planet has been here for billions of years, and will be here for just as long.
Why does that matter?
Frankly, it’s mind blowing. Based on what we know, the elements that make up our planet have been here… pretty much forever. The water that we drink is the same water that the dinosaurs drank. The water molecules that make your blood came from clouds and rivers. When you eventually die, the elements that make up your body turn back into the oceans, plants, and animals.
Similarly, the oxygen we breathe in was emitted by plants around the world, and plants use the CO2 from our breath (and from emissions) to build leaves and tree trunks. When you are in a room with a plant, you both sustain each other. Oxygen cycle, Nitrogen cycle, Aluminum cycle, Water cycle, Rock cycle, Carbon cycle, Nutrient cycle— It’s the circle of life!
A Satisfying and Fulfilling Life
Keeping in mind that these cycles exist, you too are a part of a cycle. The food you eat becomes your body and energy, the water you drink makes up to 70% of your mass–the same water that made up the mass of dinosaurs, Roman Emperors (and Roman slaves), and now-dry lakes.
For this reason, I believe we never “die”. Sure, no debate that dying is a very real thing, but in terms of “what happens after” there is reasonable evidence that we become a part of Earth’s cycles. We know that when you die and decompose, the elements of your body are transformed into elements that become bees, clouds, trees, the atmosphere, table salt–literally everything on this planet. Those elements are then transformed into food and nutrients that build animals, including humans again. It’s all a giant series of cycles.
This attitude helps keep me going when times are tough. It inspires me to help those out around me, because we are all on this Earth together for as long as I can tell. Short of being launched to another planet, I know my body will someday decompose here on Earth. My body will break down into elements or other small molecules, and those elements will be used elsewhere–maybe even as the food and water of my enemies.
Applications of This Worldview
Many years ago, my loving and caring grandmother was cremated and her ashes were spread in the ocean. Now, looking out at the sea, I know her being is a part of seals, sharks and forests of kelp. It’s not some fantasy belief–it’s factual! The nutrients and elements, minus the ones that turned into the atmosphere during cremation are now part of the ocean. To me, that is a beautiful example of how this whole planet works. We live and die and during that process transform the world around us.
This is relevant when thinking about our changing planet as well. It’s getting hotter, and humans have caused a mass extinction, but all of the elemental things that define the life of those around us are not going anywhere. Maybe everyone goes extinct, maybe nothing changes, but either way you and I (the substances of our bodies) are not going anywhere far. Jelly fish are thriving like crazy since the ocean warmed up, maybe the substances of those I love will become a jellyfish family someday, cruising through a nice, warm ocean full of industrial runoff (great for jellies!). I mean, have you seen these things?
The world is an extremely mysterious, awe-inspiring place. It’s full of well… everything! Happiness, sadness, parasitic wasps, etc. In our modern world, with water coming out of taps and food coming from the store, it’s easy to forget where and what we are.
Take a look out at the sky right now, if you are able. If the skies aren’t perfectly clear, find and look up at a cloud. You should know that the water inside of the cloud (clouds are made of water after all) was at one point water that you drank and will probably be a part of the ocean in a few days. The cloud is just going through a part of the water cycle. You are a part of the water cycle.
It’s easy to think of us as separate from the world. But we are not. We are a part of hundreds of cycles within our planet and impact hundreds more. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?