By Jo Longley
Tardigrades are lauded as one of the most resilient creatures on the planet. These microscopic potato-bear looking things can survive temperatures of either extreme heat or extreme cold, pressure equal to that at the bottom of the ocean, direct solar radiation, gamma-rays, and oxygen deprivation—by playing dead. When they sense trouble, tardigrades shut their bodies down into a “tun state,” effectively turning off their metabolism and ridding their cells of almost all water.
And they’ve been known to survive in this state for up to thirty years. Once they’re popped back into a moist, habitable environment, tardigrades can reanimate and go about living their best potato-bear lives. However, if a tardigrade lives its entire life in a temperate, habitable environment with lots of food—they’ll only live for two and a half years, at the most.
Tardigrades remind me of Hannah, my best friend, and a time we went to the Wellcome Collection to see a gallery about consciousness. I don’t remember much else about the collection, except a black and white screen that flashed information about vegetative states.
The story it told was of a woman who had lain unresponsive for five months. In trials she was able to respond with intention to cognitive commands she was given by researchers. She was still vegetative, but cognitively “she was [beyond any doubt] consciously aware of herself and her surroundings.”
Do tardigrades remember being frozen? Is being vegetative like sleeping, or hypnosis where time is still time, but more underwater like where things are stretched and distorted? Would I want to live thirty years like that for two and a half good ones?
Hannah and I agreed we would let the other die if that happened to them.
“You are the time to my space,” I wrote in the drafted vows to a man I loved, “you give my world gravity.” He explained to me in a late night phone call, while I was dreaming of the time when I’d be lying next to him and fiddling with a lock of his hair listening to him, “Without time, gravity wouldn’t exist, because gravity rather than being a force, is a disruption of space-time.”
“You are being accelerated upwards with respect to space-time by the force of the ground acting on your feet. It is exactly the same as the force which seems to push you back in your car seat when you accelerate, what is really happening is that the seat is pushing you forwards.”Martin Hogbin, 1998, UCR
My mom has always said I was born with a suitcase in my hand. I have always credited my mom with pushing me, holding me accountable for what I can achieve.
I see time as layers. Each layer a new filter on our perspective, dictating our response to stimuli and thus creating patterns we are both largely unaware of but also complicit in.
Lacking adequate parental support or connection, many emotionally deprived children are eager to leave childhood behind. They perceive that the best solution is to grow up quickly and become self-sufficient.Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Lindsay C. Gibson PsyD
And I see it as a hall of mirrors. I imagine the Big Bang the way a sperm meets an egg, and I see galaxies like maps of neurons firing in a brain, and when I sleep I see my lost love and my mother shake hands and morph into one person, and I really believe if we zoomed out far enough—gave ourselves a full panorama of the universe—we would find that we are people living in a larger person who is our universe and they are themselves a small part of the cells of a larger person, and that I am part of this cycle in citing pantheism as though I am revelationary.
Another love told me, while I was smoking on my porch and willing myself forward in time, wishing to be sitting at a cafe overlooking some body of water listening to him speak, “I don’t narrate my life the way you do, it feels self-aggrandizing, like I’ll put more importance on myself and give myself more grace than I’m due.”
I think it’s such a waste not taking advantage of our linear perspective. In the Bible the angels envy us. They want the free will that comes with our limited perspective. They want to choose. They are made of eyes and can see all things, and we only have two but refuse to use them?
Maybe it’s because my brain is made for patterns, or because it’s what I love. Maybe I’m too much of a writer and see story and narrative arcs everywhere. I love that each layer of time is infinite. That moments that passed still exist and moments that are coming already have been.
Whatever the shape of time is from the outside. That 4th dimensional mystery—I am curious, but grateful for the limitation—the unknowable boundaries I can push at from the inside, or rather, the boundaries that can endlessly push me.