“Right now!” These words, suggested as a prompt for my writers circle, immediately led me to think of two meanings of “now.”
The first refers to an open-ended period of time starting immediately (or earlier), as in the assertion, “Now is the time to jettison Mr. Trump from the party,” as the writer of a letter to The New York Times advised on Feb. 7. Or “now is the time to re-establish reality,” as a headline in a column in the February issue of Scientific American puts it.
The other meaning of “now” that came to mind refers to an instant of time, the nanoseconds that come and go faster than the blink of an eye, never to return and possible to retain only in the form of photographs, paintings, images produced in electronic scans, or in seismographs or other such recordings, or in memories, or verbal or written descriptions.
The second meaning immediately led me to think of dung beetles — yes, dung beetles, of which there are at least 5,000 species and countless individuals, all busily going about their crucial business right now. Were it not for dung beetles, which use the manure of wild animals and cattle on every continent except Antarctica as food or future food for their offspring, vast areas of land would become covered in droppings and eventually be rendered useless.
I cannot explain why dung beetles popped into my mind. They are among the trillions of quadrillions (or some such immense number) of individuals of all living species engaged in whatever they need or want to do at any given moment. They are doing so right now, as you read this.
With 7.8 billion people populating the Earth, most likely people somewhere are doing virtually anything you can possibly imagine someone doing right now. Most likely, people somewhere are thinking anything you can possibly imagine someone thinking right now. And any number of non-human creatures, right now, are doing everything we know that non-human creatures do, plus things that we as yet have no idea that they do.
Each person, each creature, has his or her or its own “right now,” at the same moment that you and I experience our own “right now.”
Each cell in the bodies of multi-celled animals is continuously engaged in all the things that cells do to keep themselves — and their hosts — alive right now. Right now, in your body and mine, an estimated 30 trillion to 40 trillion cells work tirelessly to keep us going, all without any conscious effort on our parts.
And within each cell, all their components and the molecules of which those components are made, continue to work at every moment, including right now.
Right now, all the cells that make up every plant on our planet — from the simplest algae and plankton, to the grandest redwoods and sequoias, are similarly occupied, as are all the molecules that make them what they are.
And right now, all non-living matter — water and soil, pebbles and boulders, mountains and mesas, coastlines, buildings, and roads and bridges — everything that occurs naturally, and everything that was made by humans continues to change, moment by moment, through the action of wind and rain, air pollution, heat and cold.
Clouds come into being, expand and spread, and dissipate. Snowflakes form and fall and melt. Stalactites and stalagmites continuously grow in caves. Paint fades, leather dries and cracks. Metals get fatigued. Something is happening to every single thing right now.
The planet itself is far from dormant, as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions show. And at every single moment in time — right now — the continents themselves are changing. The tectonic plates that form the continents never stop moving, although so slowly that only the most sensitive instruments can detect their movements.
Recently, a team of researchers from Canada, Australia, China and France released an animated recreation of the movement of the Earth’s land masses during the past billion years, using an immense amount of geological data collected over decades, and with the help of special software. And right now, of course, the universe itself is ever changing, as stars are born and die, galaxies are created, black holes form, and everything is moving through space at breathtaking speeds.
Right now, it’s all happening — right now.
Your “right now,” my “right now,” everybody’s “right now” is different. Some right nows are more interesting than others, but huge numbers of them have something that we would very likely find intriguing or surprising or of value in some way.
That’s one reason why the members of my writers circle meet every week. Our motto might very well be: “Right now, write now!”