Friday, July 3, 2015

Mummies of the World

(Image courtesy of Orlando Science Center)

Our family recently went to the Orlando Science Center to view the Mummies of the World exhibit. The mummies were displayed in a large dark room with multiple spotlights illuminating the remains of the bodies. The room was lined with small alcoves displaying artifacts, small mummified animals, shrunken heads, and stunning sarcophagi. The spectators were respectfully reverent as they gathered around the bodies that were once among the living.

The first mummy on display was astonishingly well preserved. A small woman, or what was left of her, lied on a table enclosed in an air-tight, temperature controlled, acrylic case. I read the information provided on the plaque and noticed her body was over 300 years old. The man she was married to was of great importance which deemed her worthy of the mummification process. The plaque also noted she was an estimated 37 years old we she died.

I noted my own age of 31 as I looked into her distorted face. I felt sad thinking that everything and everyone she ever loved and cared about was long gone, hundreds of years in the past. She was nothing more than memories—memories that quickly dissipated upon the death of her loved ones. Her life was too short, too fleeting and all that remained was the decomposing matter lying in front of me. I thought to myself, “I am 31 and my life has only begun. This poor woman didn’t even get a half of a century. Everything and everyone she ever loved or cared about was long gone. Perhaps if they had access to better technology and medical care she would have been able to live longer. Forty years simply isn’t long enough. She deserves better.”

I felt a tinge of anger, but it quickly dissolved when my toddler pulled on my leg to indicate she wanted to be picked up.

With my two year-old daughter resting comfortably in my arms, we walked across the opposite side of the dark room. We noticed a small mummified child lying on a linen cloth. The child’s little body was hardly anything more than a brittle skeletal structure wrapped in dark leathery skin. The child’s chest was open exposing a small perfectly preserved heart. The detail was astounding. The child’s tiny heart was neatly intact with the ventricles and atriums clearly visible. The various arteries expended outward, but abruptly withered into dry stubs. It’s not a sight you’re likely to forget.

At the sight of the child’s lifeless heart I instinctively placed my hand on my daughter’s chest as we stared at the remains of the small child. For as illogical as it may be, I simply wanted to feel the beating of her young healthy heart on the palm of my hand.

The plaque indicated little was known about the child. Scientists had not confirmed weather the child was male or female, but estimated the age of death to be a little older than infancy. The child most likely suffered from malnutrition with cause of death being infectious disease.

I couldn’t help but think of the vaccinations my children had received and modern medical treatments that had extended the lives of my three children. I wondered had this child had access to better technology and medical care they might have lived longer.

The anger returned as I thought, “Two years wasn’t enough. This child deserved better.”

The last alcove of the exhibit was a small family of three: a mother, father and infant. I looked at the plaque of the tiny woman and saw she was estimated to have died at age 32. I could help but lament, “Thirty-two short years? She deserves better.”

I left the room frustrated. 

As I walked out of the exhibit, I imagined myself a mummy on display in the future. Living, breathing human beings would walk respectfully past my remains. They would see my plaque indicating my age of death to be 93. Cause of death could be any number of enemies: stroke, disease, cancer, age. A beautiful mother of age 90 would look into my decomposing face and think to herself, “I am 90 and my life has only begun. This poor woman didn’t even get a full century. Everything and everyone she ever loved or cared about was long gone. Perhaps if they had access to better technology and medical care she would have been able to live longer. A hundred years simply isn’t long enough. She deserves better.”