Monday, August 27, 2012


Yesterday, Paul gave us a link to a Scientific American article on the death of mathematician William Thurston. In a sidebar was a link to a video of the hatching of the Lord Howe Island stick insect. Please watch the video, as this sizable insect struggles to emerge from a tiny egg case.

I can't quite tell you why, but this clip affected me deeply. It's not that I haven't watched birthings before, butterflies from chrysalises, for example, or the birth of my own son. Once I was commandeered to help pull a calf from a laboring cow.

But there was something solitary and brave about the stick insect's struggle, all that heaving and squeezing, inflating and unfolding. So much insect from so small a package. When it finally pulled that last leg free, I wanted to cheer.

I don't mean to be overly dramatic, but I took this little video as a metaphor for my life, all 76 years of it. So many struggles along the way, from the moment that fertilized egg took root in my mother's womb and began to grow, multiplying cells -– tens, hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, trillions -- inflating, unfolding. Then the struggle to accommodate myself to a culture, and the even more difficult struggle to at least partially extract myself from the culture of my birth. Even now, at this late date, I feel a bit like that stick insect pulling its last leg free.

It's more than a metaphor, of course. We are all of a piece, the insect and I, the same biochemistry, shaped by the same forces of natural selection to survive in a hostile world. But take it as a metaphor. A metaphor of humanity's not yet finished hatching. A line from Yeats comes to mind: "A terrible beauty is born."