“How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist.” – Sleeping At Last, Saturn
The Anthropocene Reviewed is a podcast created by bestselling author and internet educator John Green, where he reviews facets of the human era on a five-star scale. From grass lawns to the practice of Googling strangers, he maintains that there’s always something interesting to say about the most mundane or unexpected things.
This week, as someone whose main hobby is falling in love with the world, I decided to borrow the podcast’s genius format and take a crack at it myself, albeit without the five-star scale.
- Garden Snails
The word “snail” can be used to identify any one of the tens of thousands of species of shelled Gastropods, but I’m willing to bet that the first thing that comes to mind is Cornu aspersum (the Garden Snail), a small, brown-shelled creature you’d often find hanging out on the underside of a leaf after a rainy day.
Their shells make them apparent enough to quite easily spot, parked still on that plant you have on the balcony outside your window, and their movement slow enough for you to zone out and stare. Oddly enough you might feel an urge to go and pick it up or pet it, but you probably won’t actually do it.
Instead, you might wonder how they breathe. Whether their bodies count as one big limb or having no limbs at all. Most of all, though, you probably can’t help but think their shells remind you of cute little hats.
And you’d smile at yourself just a little, because what a silly thought. Going, “Hey buddy, how are you?” absentmindedly at a mollusk. Gently placing a small bit of leaf in front of where you’d assume its mouth to be and asking, “Where are your friends, little guy?”
It probably hits you at some point that you know next to nothing about the social hierarchy of snails. All you know is that you’ve inadvertently claimed a new friend, and you don’t mind that it has nothing to say back to you.
Human beings will pack bond with just about anything.
- Rubber Bands
It’s a hot day in the park and you’re rummaging through your pockets for a rubber band because you know you brought some with you for this exact reason. It’s just a matter of convenience. There’s always a pile or two of them lying around the house from who-knows-where, and if it’s functionally able to tie back your hair, then frankly that’s good enough for you.
But twenty feet in front of you is a kid with a different idea, plucking at a rubber band between his fingers like guitar strings as he sits sprawled on the grass. He’s a dragon with a hoard, you realize, as he picks up another rubber band from his plastic box full of them.
You could play with rubber bands alone, you think to yourself. Stringing two or three of them together and to a tree branch that looks uncannily like the letter Y, creating a makeshift slingshot. There’s plenty of pebbles to be scavenged from the foliage; decent ammo to fling back into the tall grass, aiming at nothing in particular.
So yeah, you could play with rubber bands alone. It would be perfectly fine. But just over there is another little kid who’s staring and can’t help but walk over, asking, “Can I braid them with you?”
And the surprise on his face turns into tentative confusion, into understanding, into happiness. Children are more shameless than us, you think, as you see them laughing away, braiding the best ever rubber jump rope to ever be.
- That Statue You See in The Park
The person it depicts probably wasn’t a big enough deal for their likeness to be carved out of pristine white marble, so you find yourself looking at cracked, slightly mossy stone instead. The faded plaque reads 1832 – 1886, and you certainly don’t recognize the name. It’s strangely disappointing that there’s nobody left alive that can tell you firsthand accounts of this person.
You’re wondering about anecdotes and quips, and eventually, you realize that they’re probably well-known enough to already have their own Wikipedia page, where there will, as always, be a section on their personal life. For some reason, that makes you even sadder.
Because this person here is standing tall and proud, carved of cracked stone in a normal park in the middle of a normal city among thousands of others. But where are the people they loved? The ones who might’ve walked with them through this same park some 150 years ago, mentioning offhandedly with a smile on their face, “It’s a nice day out today, isn’t it?”
It makes you consider for a second, just exactly where you’re standing on the grass.
If you died a hero, and a statue was erected in your honor, it would probably commemorate your achievements, proclaiming proudly: Here is a person who did a significant thing or two. But it would say nothing about how dearly you loved your cat, or your favorite book to re-read when there was nothing else to do, or the smile you had on your face when you were feeling particularly in love.
But you think that’s alright. Because looking at a statue from a time long past, you can choose what you want to focus on. And all statues bear the same plaque to you:
Here’s proof that this human existed. They lived.