This is a highly magnified image of a single-celled diatom algae. It is one of the tiniest and oldest living things on the planet. The naturalist Charles Darwin wrote about it to emphasise an idea that remains momentous: that we humans evolved from other, simpler species. At the time, this was taken to be dangerously demeaning. But it’s a hugely liberating lesson. Often we expect too much from ourselves and others. We forget our origins as smaller, hairier primates and (before that) simple clusters of cells, like these algae. We need to climb down, and recall our mortality, our frailty, our terrible limitations and our weaknesses – which are tied to our deep ancestry as tiny things at the bottom of the sea.
About the Paperweight
For centuries, artists produced ‘memento mori’, works of art that would remind their viewers of death and usually featured a skull or an hourglass.
The point of these works wasn’t to make people despair, but to help them use the thought of death to focus on the real priorities. Vivid reminders of mortality and the transient nature of life put our prosaic obsessions into question. When measured against the finality of death, the true insignificance of some of our worries is emphasised and we’re given an opportunity to feel a little braver about what we really want and feel.
We have created a collection of glass paperweights to serve as our own, modern versions of a ‘memento mori’. These objects are both pleasing to look at and should serve as daily inspirations to tackle our most important task: to live in accordance with our true talents and interests and to make the most of whatever precious moments we may have left.