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This is 40!

This is 40!

Reflections on time, fusion, and becoming

I am turning 40. But, in the words of Einstein time is relative. It was 1907, Einstein was sitting in a little patent office wondering what had become of his life. He was stamping patents one after another, though he had his PhD. People did not think much of him and so he spent a lot of time in his own mind. Suddenly, this “thought experiment” he had been replaying came alive. It was an esoteric moment in which he had been let in on. It began with him realizing that gravity is acceleration. Meaning we are all just falling beings stuck in an endless ellipse. Some of us seem like we are falling faster than others depending on our relationship or starting point to the Earth or other large objects. Those of us at higher elevations (say a peak in Montana) experience different gravitational pulls than those of us at sea level in a Caribbean bay. Therefore those of us in Caribbean, experience time at a slower rate. Time runs faster for those in Montana. (Which means, yes, Montanans actually age faster). And those of us in the Caribbean age slower.

Einstein eventually developed this simple thought experiment into his General Theory of Relativity. He realized that depending on your location you experienced time differently. In 2010, the journal of "Science" was able to confirm Einstein's thought experiment with a series of atomic clocks at different heights. “The clocks were able to perceive the dilation of time with height above ground that was first predicted by Einstein. For every foot above ground, for instance, the clocks showed that someone would age about 90 billionths of a second faster over a 79-year lifetime” (Choui, 2010).

If time is relative why then do we spend so much time talking and thinking about it. Over time, time has come to not bother me. It is one of the variables I can’t control. Some are obsessed with it. It bothers them like a small scab on their elbow that they can’t stop focusing on. They walk around saying, “Look! We don’t have much time”, or “I am so busy. If I only had more time” or “I have to get there because I need to be on time”. Living in the Caribbean and being a Latina has given me the luxury of not focusing my life so deeply on time. Time is what it is. It comes and goes and ebbs and flows. Time happens whether I like it or not and it changes relative to my location on the globe. It is not fixed, but rather mutable.

Therefore, I do not spend time thinking of time which is variable, relative, and dependent on location. Instead, as I age I consider Einstein’s constant-- light. Light travels at a consistent steady pattern and it brings so much life. Light begins with fusion the emergence of two hydrogen atoms becoming one as helium. Light is about two becoming one. (Wow, this thought experiment of my own is blowing my mind). The greatest constant in the universe is about two atoms becoming one bursting forth into the rest of the universe traveling at such high speeds that its energy brings life to all beings.

It is June 13, 2019 2:55am ATL time. Which means that in 3 hours and 28 minutes I will officially be 40 in Redlands, California where I was born. In my forty years, some days have gone at a Caribbean-pace slow and fun. Other days have gone fast like a whirlwind trip to Montana. Some have been sunny like an orange grove outside of Los Angeles where I used to climb the avocado tree above my dad’s shop. While, others have been difficult and painstaking like being stuck in rhododendron and dog hobble with hills all around you and no major peak to help you triangulate. I had twenty years of bliss growing up in Southern California and feeling like I could take on the world. Then, I had twenty years of turmoil trying to figure out who I was amidst southern graces, rules, and expectations. Times were good. Times were bad. Times were easy. Times were hard.

But, that my friends, is life-- a compilation of necessary undulations (Lewis, 1942). So, what will I do in this fortieth year? What is next? Where am I headed? Light…fusion...something in that vein. I am going to focus my time on becoming one. I don’t fully know what it looks like, but I know what it feels like. In the Caribbean, they call it “I and I”. It means becoming brothers and sisters together to take care of each other and the land. It means they are one with all creation and that ethos rules all their daily decisions. It means focusing less on how much time it takes to do something and more on the people and places I am doing time with.

This is forty-- doing time by becoming one with people and places. It feels something like a slow and easy bluegrass song I have always known and strumming beside folks that were always meant to be there.

PS- I think we can all agree that Einstein became something out of that little patent office. It seems to me he became a light and his “fusion” or “becoming” brought life to so many of us. Cheers to the late bloomers!

(Photo credit: Arthur Sasse).

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Melissa B. Wilson, M.S. is an active conservationist and environmentalist who happily lives in paradise (the U.S. Virgin Islands) working to create STEM career pathways and networks for Caribbean students. As a former evangelical, a current climate activist, gay ally, and descendant of the Bohemian Reformation (the first Protestant Reformation) she speaks about faith, life, ecology, and our current political climate on her blog www.ecotheologist.com. She graduated from Harvard University in May 2019. Her conservation research about wilderness, reaching Half-Earth, and STEM education can be found at www.melissawilson.net.

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I am Mel. This is My Harvard Story.

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