Template:Gaia and Helium
As you sit before your Gaia statue, to your surprise, she blinks. Her smile intensifies and she looks around, seemingly at your home. She stretches her arms and back. She is stiff from having stayed in the same lotus position for so long. She stands up and takes a few paces back and forth to stretch her legs. Seeing her do this you are struck by an optical enigma, for you can see that she carries the world as her belly, yet she is just over a foot tall. You know that even though she is standing on your table, your table is also standing on her. There is a paradox of multiple frames of reference at work here. Your rider says, "Part of the paradox is related to my own suspension of disbelief." But your Elephant trumpets impatiently and silences this analytical response to the miracle.
Having satisfied her need to stretch, she resumes her lotus position and you find that you too are in a lotus position and that both of you are sitting on a forest floor. She now towers above you and you are like a child sitting on the ground before her mother. Still clouds are swirling on her belly and you wonder, "Have I been made small, is she still just a foot tall and I am yet smaller, or is she a giant and I am my normal size." You look around at the trees but you don't know their species and can't be certain if they are towering giants or stunted dwarves. Nothing around you gives you any sense of scale.
"Size is relative, little one." Gaia says, apparently amused by your confusion, "Don't worry about it here. You're relationships to me are numerous and each is like a metaphorical frame of reference in which our relative sizes will be different. You didn't come here to think about this place. You came here because you have questions and this place will give you the right relationship to the answers."
"I do have questions," you say, "I listen to the news and read about the world's problems and it seems to me that, in these stories, I always play the role of the villain. Not just me but my whole species. Are we an evil species?"
Gaia looks at you with love in her eyes for a few moments and you wonder if that is going to be her whole answer. For a moment it seems to be enough. And then some movement of cloud, branch and or Earth causes a ray of Sun to strike her in the face. She welcomes it without hesitation and turns her face into the Sun, eyes closed to bask a moment in its warmth and light. "Do you know the process by which Sol will die, little one?"
"Yes," you reply, for you have sought truth by studying the world around you, "to make the warmth and light which feed us, Sol is burning Hydrogen into Helium. Over time the Helium will build up and pollute his core. Eventually, his core will be too polluted with Helium to continue to maintain the Hydrogen fusion fire and it will cool. Without its intense heat it will no longer be able to resist gravity and the core will collapse and so become more distant from the outer shell. The outer shell will not have had time to cool significantly and, no longer held onto the core by the more distant gravity, it will expand to engulf the Earth."
"Correct, little one," Gaia replies approval of your wisdom in her eyes, "But tell me, little one, who is the villain in that story."
You think about the story for a little while and then say, "Helium is the villain. Helium pollutes the core and kills Sol."
"Very good, little one," Gaia smiles and you feel she has played a trick on you, "And Helium is a villain, is she not, for she is useless to me also. I cannot build living things from her. She is aloof and antisocial. She refuses to bond with other atoms, to build molecules. She plays no part in Life. Tell me, little one, who are the heroes when it comes to elements that make up Life?"
"Well, let me see, " you don't really need to ponder the answer, you are just trying to put it in the best words, "Hydrogen is one, for she is the most numerous atom in our bodies, she is involved in virtually every molecule, she is two out of three of the atoms in every molecule of water. Then there is Carbon, she too is heroic, for her ability to form four bonds is what allows our bodies to build the complex molecules required to fulfill all the multitude of functions required for Life. And then Oxygen is important. Her hunger for electrons is what allows us to change our molecules from one form to another so quickly. And then there is Nitrogen, Sodium, Chlorine, Calcium, Iron, Phosphorus, Potassium and many more."
"Very good answer, little one," Gaia laughs and you know she is still holding a surprise for you, "Where did all these heroes of organic chemistry come from, little one?"
"We learned, quite recently, that they came from earlier generations of stars who died to spread their wealth of those elements into the Galactic Cloud." You reply automatically and from rote.
"And so if stars did not die, where would those elements be today?" Gaia replies with a serious look and you know the trap is sprung.
"Still in the cores where it is too hot for Life to live." you say and feel that understanding is beginning to dawn.
"So, little one," Gaia says and she has shown you the error in your myth, "Helium is the ultimate hero of the story, is she not. She kills stars so that Life can have their little local heroes, Carbon, Oxygen, Nitrogen and all of the others. She has provided me with the diversity of elements that I need so that I can create and evolve Life into every growing possibilities. If all I had was Hydrogen, I would have but one molecule to work with. I would be impossible.
"You are Helium, little one. You play her part. All of the world's problems that you cause are as nothing, if only you can play your ultimate role and spread my Life to a million other worlds. Just as Helium is the mid-wife of the elements, so too are you my midwife. Strive to play your part. You are not broken or misdirected. You have an ambiguous part to play. Play your part, little one." She smiles and her smile becomes very still. You realize that the forest is gone and you are back in your home and she is once again a statue of a women sitting in lotus position before you on a table. You have your part to play, your thing to do.