When I was a child, I remember my father showing me a fossil of a shell. A little boy found it and gave it to him when he was passing through Afghanistan on the hippy trail back in the seventies.
I would often look at the fossil then look at a picture of Afghanistan, landlocked and barren. How did a shell find its way to such an unlikely place? I remember spending a lot of time reading about geography after that. I learnt about shrinking oceans and growing mountains and how fossils are formed.
Impressed by my eagerness to learn, my Grade Four teacher got me to stand up in front of the class and give a lesson on the continental drift. As a frustrated performer, this was one of the happiest moments of my life.
But the Earth’s constant state of flux made my small heart ache. I would look at cliff faces and mountains and know that one day, long after my death, they too would crumble away. I would look at cats and dogs and land crabs and know that, if the conditions are right, they would be pieces of rock one day. For the first time, I felt the pang of my own mortality.
Today, the fossilized shell brings those ideas of mortality back to me. I think of the little Afghan boy, who would be well into his 50s now. Who did he become? Given the political climate of his native land, he could even be dead. Maybe he’s turning into a fossil and some futuristic being will give a piece of his leg to another traveler in one million years time.
Though the fossil is a symbol of our mortality, it also suggests the possibility of a roundabout immortality. It holds so many macro and micro histories. It tells of the Earth and its contractions and expansions, with more years in between than our puny brains can really grasp… and it tells a tiny history of a father and a daughter and a mysterious Afghani.
The stories that the fossil has immortalised are comforting to me. My father was a late starter, so I never knew him as a young man. He was 50 when I was born, so I have always been more in touch with his mortality than my peers have been with their parents.
It’s only with relics like this that I can connect him to a youthful exuberance similar to what I am experiencing now. When I think to the fossil and its history, it helps me to understand myself and how I’ve come to be, mortality and all.
This piece was originally posted on Effervescence Journal’s sister site, Hippies and Losers.