Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star

‘I was gazing at a shooting star, wondering why it was getting bigger and bigger…then it hit me.’

This week contained the peak viewing for the Lyrid meteor showers. Meteor showers occur when the earth’s orbit takes us through the remnants of a comet tail. Comets are covered in ice or other frozen substances that flow off the comet as it orbits the sun. The dust from the tail makes up our meteor showers. The particles are usually smaller than a grain of sand and burn up completely in the atmosphere. The meteor is that flash of light as the dust vaporizes. If a particle makes it through the atmosphere then it’s called a meteorite (or maybe a meteoroid until it hits the earth).

While looking up some information on meteor showers for this year, I found a very unusual video of a skydiver’s near miss (really a near-hit…) with a meteorite. Well, if it was really a meteorite, that is absolutely amazing. There is still some doubt, but that would be scary. Could we get hit from above?

The answer of course is no… I mean the chance is so small that one astronomer stated “You have a better chance of getting hit by a tornado and a bolt of lightning and a hurricane all at the same time.”

Yet there have been people hit right? Well, just one documented case. An Alabama woman in 1954 was sleeping on her couch when a meteorite crashed through her roof and hit her in the hip (see account of incident here).

peekskill meteorite car

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But there was a dog killed in Egypt in 1911 by a meteorite. And one hit a woman in the UK in 2004, that boy in Florida in 2007…wait there have been more than 30 people and homes hit in the last 200+ years along with 6 animals and 7 cars…

That sounds like a lot of tornado/lightning/hurricanes happening…I’m getting scared.

These are reports from around the world, and that means several billion people involved…so maybe it’s not something to worry about.

Then last week a group took data from  the nuclear test ban monitoring station network that shows 26 asteroids impacting the earth for the past 13 years. The impacts ranged from 1 to 600 kilotons in power (Hiroshima was 15 kilotons) and were primarily in the upper atmosphere so no real damage occurred at ground level, but like little earthquakes precede the big one, that killer asteroid maybe out there.

A low atmosphere explosion over Chelyabinsk in 2013 was 500 Kilotons and caused building damage that injured over 1000 people. In 1908 a low atmosphere explosion estimated at 1.5 Megatons destroyed 850 square miles of forest and 1000 reindeer in Siberia. Another near miss…

The asteroid that finished off the dinosaurs was 10 Megatons and it impacted the surface of the earth. Life is changed when a killer asteroid hits. There is evidence of many killer asteroids hitting the earth in the past. And life goes on…

Killer asteroid

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What should I do about the killer asteroids?

There is nothing that can be done. Worrying or losing sleep over it is just wasting energy. The biggest ones can be tracked, but not diverted. The smaller ones are not able to be detected before impact. The earth is 70% oceans, so that is where most impacts occur. Again, worrying about nothing.

boy looking at stars

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I suggest instead, that we focus on those beautiful meteor showers. Take time to enjoy the magnificence of space. Focus on some quality time with your family and friends. In fact,the next major meteor event will happen next week, around May 5. This shower is associated with the tail of the famous Halley’s comet. Take time to teach your kids about the meteors and comets. And maybe explain about the asteroids also, but don’t make them too paranoid to enjoy the night sky.

dsb

 

That’s Life…what’s life?

Well, I’ve decided that I may not be particularly fond of blogging…for two reasons. First, I tend to have a lot more to say as I run out of space (so sequels may be in order), and second, I tend to have more topics invade my brain as I’m trying to finish the thoughts of the current blog. This is a prior invasion…

The joke goes: Well, that’s Life… what’s Life?… its a cereal…really, how much does it cost?… $2.50…I only have $2.00…well, that’s Life. ba dum tsh.

This blog is about life.  You see, I am a biologist by training. By definition I am one who studies life. But it is hard to actually define life.

Merriam-Webster defines Life as  :the ability to grow, change, etc., that separates plants and animals from things like water or rocks

Now I know that is a definition, but it is really about characteristics of life. We have an easy time telling life from non-life. Does it grow, change, move or just sit there like a rock?

Even children and animals can recognize life, they see a stick on the ground then, whoop! it moves so it could be a snake…

We see the characteristics and know, this is life, but what makes something change from non-life to life? What is the essence of life?

You can’t just add electricity (sorry Dr. Frankenstein…), but there is a type of electricity involved with life processes. Some form of DNA/RNA is present in life as we know it. You have to have oxygen, but not all life needs it. And with the organisms that need it, too much harms life. Water is also a necessity, but again too much is a bad thing. It’s not a simple recipe.

Scientists have 3 rules of life, called the cell theory.

  1. The cell is the most basic unit of life.
  2. All living organisms are composed of one or more cells.
  3. All cells arise from pre-existing, living cells.

But these are not the essence of life. Scientists don’t know how to take a set of non-living chemicals and put them into a cell (the basic unit of life) and make it come alive. Even the right chemical balance taken out of the cell membrane becomes “dead”.

heart

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And there is a complex hierarchy of life or different levels of life. By that I mean that we are alive as organisms (Level 1). If our brains cease to function then we die. However, our organs can remain alive if donated to another body (Level 2). We are not alive, but part of us is.

And if you break the organ down into its cells, then the organ is dead, but the cells can be kept alive (Level 3).

Then if the cells are tweaked properly, they can be grown into another organ. Or the cells can be put into a prepared egg and become another organism (theoretically at least, see last week’s blog).

My kidney is not me, but it is a part of me. If I lose a kidney, I don’t cease to exist, but how many parts can I lose before I am no longer me? And some parts seem to define me or my image of me more that other parts.

And when did I begin? Does life begin at birth? Well, a level of life might begin there or another level after we reach a certain age of independence. That was 18 back in the day, but now seems to be more like 34…

Of course another level is when the egg and the sperm unite…conception begins that process of life.

But in reality we don’t create life at conception. Cells come from pre-existing cells, or life comes from pre-existing life.

Once life began at…well, the beginning, it has not stopped. It takes a living cell to make another living cell. Mama’s egg was alive before conception (as was Daddy’s sperm).

We are part of a great continuum of life. Part of a journey. Then when do I cease to be me? …cease to exist? (Ah…add a dash of sequel dust here…)

dsb

This Side of Heaven

Sharon and I stayed close to home this Thanksgiving.  My parents were traveling, so we invited a few friends over for dinner.  My wife can cook.  And she can decorate.  The table was perfect.  The food was too.  And at the end of the evening, Sharon prepared to-go boxes and sent everyone home with leftovers to enjoy the next day.

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

But for the families of two of my friends, sadness found its way into the week.  And Thanksgiving Day did not go as they had planned.

Last Tuesday, in the Ambulatory Surgery Center at Good Shepherd Hospital in Longview, a man went on a stabbing spree—leaving four people injured, one critically.  A nurse lost her life in the confrontation.

The man’s name was Harris Teel.  He was stabbed in the heart while waiting for his son to come out of surgery.  He is the father of a friend I used to teach with.  He is still fighting for his life.  And I know that his family is on their knees praying for his survival.  I am lifting up prayers for Mr. Teel and his family as well.

The nurse was Gail Sandidge.  When she heard the disturbance, she left the patient she was caring for to be of assistance.  She too was stabbed in the heart.  She was related by marriage to a dear friend who is a member of the church where I worship.  Gail was a wife, mother, sister and dear friend to so many.  And besides being a devoted nurse who loved her patients, she was a believer who walked close with God.

I didn’t know Gail.  But I have been in that part of the hospital as a patient before, and the nurses on that floor have been a blessing to me.

As I reflected on this tragedy, I remembered a day six years ago when I was having a catheter surgically implanted in my chest just above my heart.  The catheter would serve as the entry point for my chemo drugs.  The morning of the surgery, I was apprehensive.  But then a nurse breezed into my cubicle and smiled warmly.  She asked me about my cancer and I told her I had lymphoma.  Then she told me that she was a stage 3 breast cancer survivor. “Your oncologist,” she said, “was also mine, and he’s the best.”

Then she did something extraordinary.  Something I will never forget.  She looked at me and said, “I had the same procedure you’re having today.  I had a catheter placed in my chest too—Here, let me show you my scar.”  And she pulled the collar of her uniform down just enough to show me where the catheter had once been.  “You don’t have to be afraid,” she said. “You’re in God’s hands.  It’s up to us to fight the cancer, and it’s up to Him to do the miracles.  And He can do miracles.  I’m living proof.”

She didn’t know me.  But she knew how to bring calm into that cubicle.  She expressed vulnerability.  She showed me her scar.  She made the unknown known.  She didn’t waste her cancer.

And when she left the room, Sharon whispered, “Little angels.”

Last Tuesday, when Gail went home to be with the Lord, heaven certainly gained another precious angel.

I know Gail’s family is mourning her death.  But as he reflected on the loss, Gail’s minister, the Rev. David English, said this: “We grieve, but not like those without hope.  God can and will redeem this loss somehow, although we may not be aware of it this side of heaven.”

His words struck me.  Each one of us, after all, is living just this side of heaven.

I am mindful, always, that my life is a vapor.  Six years into remission, I understand that each day is a gift from God.  And each day is filled with gifts for us to treasure.

I live a blessed life.  And I am grateful—for my wife, my family and friends, and for the students on this campus that God has entrusted into my care.  Each day, I have the opportunity to invest in their lives, with the dream that they will, in turn, invest in the lives of others.

And so, while I’m still this side of heaven—

May I be a faithful servant to the students in my classroom.

May I be a man who reveals the heart of God.

May I be willing to share my scars with others.

And may I remember that someday on the other side—“. . . there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain.”

(Revelation 21: 4)

 skc

 

Life Lessons… what I wish I could tell my students

If I could write a letter to my students, this is what it would say.

Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: symphony of love via Compfight cc

1. God is preparing you… so be a good steward of your education.

Learning is a responsibility… not just a grade. God gives us opportunities to learn, and we should do this to the best of our ability. Once you get out of college, you pay your bills based on the money you bring in not the grade you get from a teacher. Treat your studies like a job. Practice now, because you will learn soon enough that your job won’t fail you or give you a ‘zero’ for not doing your work. They will fire you.

Test, quizzes, writing assignments, and projects are designed to track your learning progress. Use these experiences to guide you throughout your educational experience. It is your responsibility to learn. Communicate with your teachers when you are having difficulty learning. We are here to help.

2. Attitude is everything
I would rather work with someone that is less talented with a great attitude, than with someone that is super talented with a poor attitude. Work on your attitude. Learn from your bad attitude days and find ways to change your attitude.

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Photo Credit: anitakhart via Compfight cc

3. Life is not easy.. don’t make excuses & stop whining
If life was easy… everyone would be good at it… only the successful rise to the top. Successful people have the same life issues as unsuccessful people. However, successful people learn how to overcome their difficulties. They strive longer and harder for success.

Think about your grandparents. What have they overcome for you and your family to have the opportunities that you have today? If you slack up today, how are you affecting your own future, and the future generations? Work hard. Don’t make excuses. Get the job done. You will see the fruits of your labor (good or bad).

4. No one ever truly knows their own potential… so don’t sell you self-short.

Dream big. I am only the person I am today because people saw potential in me. They encouraged me. However, I have had my fair share of non-supporters in my life. They didn’t believe in me, and at times I thought I wasn’t going to amount to much. I found out the hard way… no one truly knows your full potential.

Start with small successes. Let each success prepare you for your next opportunity. Seek out challenges and you will get stronger. You will grow from each experience.

Find other people that are successful in your chosen profession. Get to know their life story. Connect with these people early in life, and you will find that many people work hard to get to the top.

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Photo Credit: h.koppdelaney via Compfight cc

5. Rules are generally safe boundaries… Embrace them.

Don’t touch the hot stove. Literally… don’t touch it. We can easily see why this rule is valid and important. The rules of life are not always that clear in why we should or should not follow them. For example, I have a no cell phone policy in my class. The reason I don’t allow cell phones is because you generally should not be playing with your cell phone in a professional setting. If you play with it during a meeting, you could be perceived as unprofessional or disrespectful. So why practice this bad behavior in college? I could go on and on with examples. The point is… when you encounter a rule about life, relationships, finances, ect. .. Just know that this is God’s way of protecting you. Embrace them.

This letter is not specifically for my students. It is more of a reflection of my own experiences and the lessons I have learned the hard way. I know my students may not understand this even if I told them… but I wish I would have learned these lessons the easy way.