I just want to say that Michelle is very incredible. Publicly. I don’t know her, I’ve never met her. But she’s had quite a hard year and she deserves a little noticing.
After her parents’ divorce, Michelle’s dad decided to move out of state, she hasn’t heard from him in nine months. He won’t take her calls. Her brother left for college. And her mother got a new full-time job with a long daily commute. Michelle is lonely and having some major confidence issues this year.
Oh, and today is her 14th birthday.
So if you are reading this, Michelle, I want you to stop thinking about crummy stuff for a few minutes. And think about how indubitably awesome you are. I mean it.
Quit reading. Take a few seconds. And think about the Miracle that is You.
Now I realize that we are basically strangers. All I am is text on the screen. And you probably don’t think you’re miraculous. But here’s the thing: you are.
For one thing, you’re reading these pixels, and they are actually making sense to your ridiculously advanced mammal brain.
You’ve probably never considered what’s involved in the simple act of reading. Truthfully, I never have, either. Not until I wrote this column.
Before I sat down to type the following paragraphs I did some research on the anatomy of the human eyeball. And all I can say is, whoa, it really opened up my aqueous humors.
Here’s what I found out:
While you’re reading these words, the lens of your eyeball is focusing and refocusing like a high-tech camera. It’s filtering lightwaves through your vitreous humor—a clear jelly substance in the back of your eyeball.
THEN, your retina transforms this image into tiny electrical impulses which are carried by the optic nerve to the brain.
But wait. There’s more.
All these alphabetic symbols and pixels that I’m writing have no real meaning. Not until they get decoded by your occipital lobe and a bunch of other fancy lobes and get identified as actual letters. Then words. Sentences. Paragraphs. And finally abstract thoughts which your brain recognizes as the most yawn-inducing writing you have ever read.
And all THIS has happened instantaneously.
It’s happening right now. You’re translating my words at lightning speeds. Which means that, in a way, my words are inside your head. Which means I’m inside your head. And let me tell you, it’s pretty cozy up here. Although I would replace those outdated drapes.
Every day, every hour, every millisecond, your body is doing miracles like this, working like a supercomputer. From your brainstem to your foot muscles. Your body is always making magic.
Let’s say you fall and skin your knee. Immediately, a squadron of specialized blood cells rush to the surface like miniature miracle-network navy SEALS. The platelets swarm the cut, along with calcium, vitamin K, and something called fibrinogen.
This is so unbearably amazing I can’t stand it.
Hey! Wake up over there!
Once the air hits the fibrinogen, it turns into fibrin, which becomes a microscopic hardened mesh across your wound, like chicken wire. It forms a tough scab. And that scab is just the beginning of the healing process.
Oh, Michelle. Your body has the supernormal ability to heal itself.
White blood cells called macrophages show up first. These cells are like bodyguards. Like enormous, giant, overly muscled SEC football players fighting off evil bacteria like a bunch of hungry offensive linemen at the Golden Corral family buffet.
After THAT, your Amazing Body gets down to business repairing your skin with new collagen, pumping out new epidermis material as though it were Reddi-Wip.
Your body is always making new skin. Every day. Lots and lots of it. How much skin do you produce? You produce 30,000 to 40,000 new skin cells every minute.
You produce so much skin that the average human being sheds its entire outer layer of skin every three to four weeks. Over the course of your lifetime, you will shed 1,000 human bodies’ worth of skin.
Are you following me here, Michelle? I hope so. Because once that scab falls off, you are not just whole again. You are brand new. All healed.
The scar may itch, or even pucker. But it’s pristine skin. And over the next six weeks, that flesh will get tougher. And tougher.
But here is the interesting part. Your scar won’t get so tough that it becomes numb. In fact, the scar will never be 100 percent normal again. Because that is not the way life works.
Old wounds will always be sensitive. You will always feel it. And even though it doesn’t seem like it right now, this heightened sensitivity is a profound gift.
Don’t listen to people who tell you to grow thicker skin. You don’t need thick skin. All you need is to keep growing new skin. And you are doing just that. Even as we speak. Every moment. You’re healing more and more.
One day you won’t remember this letter. You’ll forget that some hack writer in Florida was in his office tapping out random biology facts because he was thinking about you.
By then you’ll be an adult with a beautiful family of your own. You’ll be a great parent. Tenderhearted, kindhearted, and you will be wise.
If you ask me, the Earth is lucky to have you, Michelle. For there is nothing more incredible than the creation of You. I’m sorry your father couldn’t see that. But I see it. With my own two retinas.
Happy birthday, sweetheart.