Supposedly, we all lose 21 grams at the exact moment of our death.
At the moment that our heart stops beating, we all lose three-fourths of an ounce. That weighs less than a Hershey's chocolate bar. A sparrow. A stack of 10 dimes. It's an amount so inconsequential you can carry more than three times this amount of liquid onto an aircraft in your carry-on.
In 1901, Dr. Duncan MacDougall was a physician in a TB hospital, and as patients approached imminent death, they were placed on a large scale, and the average, consistent loss in body mass as 21 grams, which he claimed was a parapsychological effect. He said that it was the weight of the human soul exiting the human body. Medically, this weight loss could be the shrinking of various body parts or the affects of the bodily temperature changes when the heart stops beating.
The claim could easily be explained away, but we resist the urge to dispute this idea, even if it is an urban legend backed up with little physical proof.
For some reason, we humans know that there is more to a lifespan than anatomical functions like a beating heart and oxygen going in and out of our lungs. I like to think of those 21 grams as something much more weighty. If we think of our body as our hardware, our computer, our laptop, then our soul, our consciousness, is our software. It's our programming. Our soul is what tells our brain what to do. It's the invisible clone of WHO WE ARE, residing within this connective tissue wetsuit of bones, muscles, blood and guts we call a body.
Our soul permeates our physical body to the very mitochondria, and saturates our mind down to our subconscious. When our heart does what all hearts eventually do and the echocardiogram shows a long flat line and makes that humming tone that we all have imbedded in the dread part of our psyche (can you hear it in your head right now?) then it's time for the spiritual part of us to depart and leave the world behind, all the while carrying with it all of our particular lifetime experiences.
It's amazing to imagine and much heavier than 21 grams -- in the ways that I care about -- than how much my bathroom scales say every morning.
Philosophically, this three-fourths of an ounce is about sustainability of the highest relevance. It represents our whole lifespan of what we have lost and what we have gained. It's our yardstick for whether we finished strong or didn't measure up.
As we skitter like a water bug across the ocean of our physical, visible existence, our soul conjures for me a fragile, yet armor-plated thread. It's what the 21 grams represents metaphorically. This thread connects the weight of our body to the weight of our soul. Twenty-one grams reminds us about the fragility of life. It is a line drawn in the sand -- a demarcation between existence on this planet and non-existence in another dimension.
Living is not simple. The older I get, the more I look less at my bathroom scales and more inward, trying to check the weight of my emotional equilibrium, to move as much forward as I do backward -- to estimate the sustainability of my soul.
My weight goes up and down, but, more importantly, I want to elevate the un-weighable part of me to a spiritual height where I can appreciate how unfathomably mysterious and blessed my life has been. I may not be ready to go when my anatomical heart is done beating, but I hope I don't have regrets. And I know that the most meaningful part of the mosaic of my life will not be time spent on my bathroom scales.