Cheating death

Ages ago, before I ever started writing Roots of The Olive Tree, I read an article in National Geographic about a specific species of jellyfish (turritopsis nutricula) who cheat death–and in some way achieve a measure of immortality. What interested me wasn’t the idea that immortality was possible, but that this particular jellyfish is only able to cheat death when it is stressed.

Let me explain. The turritopsis nutricula is a pretty average hydrozoa–it floats around the ocean (mostly the Pacific) and does its jellyfish thing–eating stuff, producing eggs, fertilizing those eggs. But when the jellyfish becomes stressed because of lack of food or gets injured, its cells can regress back into immature form. There’s no known limit to the number of times specific specimen can age and then regress.

Meaning this creature roughly the size of a pea can get old, get stressed, grow young and then repeat the cycle innumerable times to achieve what is in essence biological immortality. You can see how a fact like that might get stuck in my brain.

Of course, I’m simplifying the science, but I still find the concept incredible. I worked a bit of it into the book–in a section where the geneticist discusses the fascination we all have for these scientific studies with headlines like “flatworm holds key to eternal life” or “Mouse unlocks the secret to stopping aging.” They’re sexy, in the same way youtube’s reply girls are.

But what are the deeper implications? I’ve written before about my need to fill every hour of every day with busyness. How are our reactions to stress like those of this immortal jellyfish? In some ways I become immortal–in that I am more productive with a busy hour than with an unfilled hour. And if you mesure life in what you are able to accomplish, then I’m living more life.

But there’s a breaking point. Yesterday I left work almost in tears. Overwhelmed by the work on my plate–teaching, administrative tasks, wondering how much time I’ll have to write the next book, juggling my children’s schedule, social commitments, church commitments, time with my husband, time to exercise, time to fix healthy meals, time to clean my kitchen, fill my fridge up with food, etc.

When I got home, I was very much in a childlike state. Luckily I had someone to fix me dinner and help put the groceries away. How do you handle stress? How do you mesure longevity?

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