Life began here on earth around three and a half billion years ago with the first twitchy molecules and cells. That’s three thousand and five hundred of those million-year-spans. One might expect that people would ponder that immensity, but it sits in popular consciousness either not at all or as one of those faceless big-number abstractions. By comparison, the time spans in traditional religions are highly evocative: the creation myths, the eons and cycles, the reincarnations and immortality of souls. But three and half billion years has so far failed to impress.
To me it is moving to consider that length of time because genetically each of us goes all the way back through the whole of it. We talk of family ancestors or animal ancestors, but our ancestors include all the first animals and swimming things and first cells as well. The thread, the links, we carry behind us are very long indeed. Moreover, many of the ordinary living things around–and inside–us have been more or less what they are for enormous, humbling lengths of time. The grass outside has been growing for 60 million years. The bacteria in our stomachs have bacterial forebears reaching back one billion years. Awesome.