Tag Archives: Henrietta Lacks


23 Jul

It seems that I have been surrounded by immortals lately. Not real immortals, but the ones found in the pages of books. I just finished Blood Line by James Rollins, a book about a secret cabal performing experiments on humans to find a DNA secret to immortality. Currently, I am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This is the true story of cancer cells taken from a woman and how they have continued to thrive since the 1950s. The cells have been used to further numerous scientific advancements.

Obviously, the books are different. One fiction. One non-fiction. However, the both center around something that humanity has often dreamed about – immortality. The scientists goal in the Rollins book may seem fantastical, but scientists in the Skloot book were looking at prolonging life as well.

Through this reading, I have been reminded about a conversation I had with some students. We were hiking through New Mexico when I asked what superpower they would pick if they could. I chose invisibility. One chose the ability to fly like Superman. However, another chose immortality. My first thought was how cool that would be, but then I started thinking about the problems.

1. When you get that power, you had better have a non-aging policy.

2. What happens when the Earth is destroyed? I suppose by that time people will be traveling to other planets.

3. How do you handle the death of loved ones over and over and over?

This brings to mind one of my favorite movies, Highlander – the story of Connor MacLeod, an immortal who must fight other immortals until only one is left. What’s the prize for the winner? He has immortality taken away. There is even a great song by Queen called “Who Wants to Live Forever“. And, what does that song say?

Who wants to live forever when love must die?

People have always been fascinated by immortality. After all, that is what religion is about. The Greeks and Romans worshipped immortals. Modern religions look for life after death. However, religion is not the only place immortality resides. Vampires have become a major theme in popular culture, and they hang around until somebody sticks a stake in them. Even zombies offer a glimpse at immortality, or an undead version of it.

So, why has humanity always had immortality on the brain? There’s probably more than one answer. First, people don’t want to stop being. No one wants to die even though it’s going to happen to everyone. It’s like a horror movie. YOU WILL NOT GET OUT ALIVE!!!

Second, we don’t want to miss anything. At least, this is what I think about. What will the world be like after we are gone? I call it “future history”. We have this urge to know what’s going to happen. What will the world be like in 2100? Will it be like The Jetson’s or like The Planet of the Apes? And, I use those examples for a reason. We like futuristic movies because it gives us a glimpse of what things might be like after we are gone. Some, like Star Trek, are about a hopeful future. Others, like Blade Runner, are about a desolate future. It doesn’t matter which because we just need to know what’s going to happen.

I feel bad for what people have missed. My grandfather was a huge fan of the University of Tennessee, and he passed away on a Saturday morning in 1995. That night his team, led by Peyton Manning, beat Alabama 41-14. I kept thinking how I wished he could have seen that. The next few seasons were great ones for Tennessee, and they eventually won the national championship in 1998. All I could think of was that he was missing it. I wish he could have seen it, and I wish I could see all of the games of the future.

But, those wishes are impossible because immortality is impossible. And, if it was possible would we really want it? I don’t know, but I do know that there is an old saying – Be careful what you wish for because it may come true.

Summer Reads Make Me Feel Fine

30 May

Remember that old tune? “Summer reads make me feel fine”. Wait, I think that me the wrong lyrics. Anyway, summer reads are great, and I have a short list to keep me busy for a while. That’s not to say that reading is the only thing I have to do. Despite what many think, summer is not a total vacation for the educational sect. We have classes to prepare for; research to do; and, you never know when a problem might crop up on campus.

With that being said, we obviously have time for some leisurely reading. I am going to begin with the following.

The Columbus Affair: A Novel by Steve Berry. I have read Berry’s Cotton Malone series since its inception and like its mixture of action and historical mystery. It’s one of those things that started after the popularity of The Da Vinci Code and is far from high level intellectualism. That’s why I like it.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith. The students on the field trip said I have to read this. I plan on seeing the movie, so I also feel that I need to read it. It comes from the smash-up genre and shows Honest Abe as a killer of vampires. I can’t wait to see Franklin Roosevelt as a killer of werewolves and Barack Obama as the slayer of the people who voted for him zombies.

The Emerald Storm by William Dietrich. Another work from the genre of historical fiction, this book has a twist. The mystery takes place in the past with the adventures of Ethan Gage. I have also read all of these and was first attracted because one took place in the western frontier. Ethan has been all over the world in the employ of some of history’s most powerful people.

Where the Tall Grass Grows: Becoming Indigenous and the Mythological Legacy of the American West by Bobby Bridger. Only a work of history would have a title that long. We tend to spell things out right there on the cover, so I don’t have to do much explaining. It has a buffalo skull on the cover, so it must be good.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Ever heard of HeLa cells? Apparently, they have become important in medical research throughout the world. This book is about the woman that they were originally taken from.

Howard Cosell: The Man, the Myth, and the Transformation of American Sports by Mark Ribowski. As a kid, I was fascinated by Howard Cosell and the people on Monday Night Football. My parents let me stay up long enough to see the Halftime Highlights and hear Cosell’s cadence as he said, “He. Could. Go. All. The. Way.” I can’t wait to delve into the life of the man behind the mouth.

That’s my list. If you have any other suggestions, then please let me know.