Anonymous asked: What the fuck is the meaning of anything? Why am I compelled to wake up and go through the daily process when I know (or at least assume) that nothing I do will matter in say a thousand years? Is my inability to seriously contemplate suicide a product of my biology or is there some greater spiritual reason? Is it silly that I feel like there should be something above and beyond the nature of my meat, which is a spectacular work of natural engineering? Finally, how many of these do you get a day?
This makes me think about what happens in a woman at the midpoint of her menstrual cycle.
A woman’s ovaries are, in life, almost completely white. They sit deep in a woman’s hips, at the bottom of her abdominal cavity. If they weren’t tethered to the uterus by a pair of strong ligaments, they would be free to move around the abdomen, rather like the testicles of a male fetus before they descend into the scrotum.
The uterus is usually folded in a deep bow over the vagina. The two fallopian tubes extend from the top of the uterus, like a person bent double but with their arms thrown back at the shoulders. At their other ends, the fallopian tubes are open to the abdominal cavity. The openings are delicately fringed with thin fingers of tissue.
By the midpoint of a menstrual cycle, one egg is about to erupt from its ovary. The egg sits in the middle of a ball of jelly about the size of a hazelnut. This is the follicle. The follicle is so large and so well-supplied with blood that it forms a black blister on the surface of the ovary. The follicle begins to digest the ovary’s surface, in order to weaken the walls of the blister. Just before the follicle bursts, it secrets a hormone that causes the end of a fallopian tube to stir. The fringes begin to push their way through the abdominal cavity and towards the ovary. Once they’ve found it, the fringes start to walk across the ovary. They know the hormone that the follicle secretes and to discover its source, the fringes taste the ovary as they move across its surface. The fringes billow out once they touch the blister and then descend on it like a curtain. The follicle forces itself out of the weakest spot on the blister’s surface. The egg in its ball of jelly flows from this hole, into the abdominal cavity and up towards the tent of red fringe the fallopian tube has erected over it.
The egg is separated from its jelly by the fringe’s delicate fingers and passed from fringe to fringe, upwards into the mouth of the fallopian tube. Grooves in the wall of the tube slowly undulate to conduct the egg deeper and deeper, until a swallowing motion along the length of the tube catches the egg and conveys it to the uterus.
In one sense this is where all of us are from, but in another sense this account is even more foreign than the most extreme alienations that geography can produce.
When I say “I’m from Boston” or “I’m from Lagos,” I mean to extend myself to other people. When I say where I’m from, I’m trying to help someone understand me. But this is not the same kind of understanding you could boast of having once you’d read how an egg gets from an ovary to the uterus. When we begin to understand another person, after they start talking about themselves, we understand them. If you read a detailed account of an egg’s ovulation, you understand what happens to it. This is the difference between talking to a person over dinner and conducting an investigation that determines if they are guilty of a crime.
As thoroughly as we study the fringes of the fallopian tube, when they taste the ovary’s surface or delicately raise the liberated egg into the swallowing throat, we are only documenting their performance to higher and higher standards of precision. And even a record of unbounded precision will never allow us to understand the egg as it is understood by the delicate fringes that search for it. When a person talks about himself, when he explains his accent, or his unexpected turns of phrase, or the blackness of his skin by saying “I’m from Lagos,” when I bow over my dinner plate to catch every word he says, he is offering and I am accepting an understanding of greater and greater depth.
This is because the kind of understanding we would like to have, for other people and for ourselves, is a mutual activity. Something is offered and something is sought. An egg extends itself and the roving fringe tastes in search of it. A black man talks about himself and I lean forward so as not to miss a word he says.