Back in the 1950’s some high school Seniors were proving their manhood by sneaking a smoke behind the gym. To prove his bravery, Tony lit up another Camel and said, “Coffin nail.”
On the cross, Jesus had nails in his hands and feet, but I don’t mean them either. However, we are getting closer.
I mean the nails on our hands and feet - fingernails and toenails. In the upper Amazon rain forests of Peru, the Yaruca man hid behind a tree as he cut his nails. He made sure they all fell into the maco vine leaf in front of him. He wrapped them carefully in the leaf, put it in his monkey skin pouch, and went home. Later that night he got out of his hammock and buried them in a secret place.
The anthropologist studying the tribe finally got him to explain this ritual. He said, “My nails may be cut off but they are still connected to me. If my enemies or the evil water spirits find them, they will curse me and my family. We will get sick and die.”
The little boy said, “Ouch! Mommy, that hurts. Why do my fingernails keep growing?”
Mom gave the question a try, “Your body parts are alive and growing. They are made up of tiny little pieces called ‘cells’. It’s sort of like that big Oak tree out front. It’s been using its leaves all summer in order to grow. It no longer needs them so they die and fall off. Your cells burn tiny bits of energy to help you grow and then they have to do something with the ashes. Your body sends those used up bits to your hands and feet, to make nails. As long as you are alive, your nails will grow to get rid of those dead pieces and you will cut them off.”
“You mean my fingernails are dead?”
“Only the white/gray outside edges.”
“So my fingers and toes are alive and dead at the same time? If I used Daddy’s microscope, could I watch them die?”
“I doubt it, but you are getting a little too deep for me. In one way you could still be alive in the dead part of you that was cut off. The Yoruca man figured it out without any help from modern science. The dead pieces carry your DNA, your identity. You are still you in your dead nails. If, 500 years from now, some explorers dig up his little packet of clippings, they might be able to jump start his DNA and grow a new/old him. We’ll have to ask the preacher if that’s reincarnation, resurrection, born again, or what? They found a 1000 year old Wooly Mammoth in an ice pack and are trying to grow one.”
“You lost me Mom, but I think I’ve figured one thing out. You and Sis paint your nails or put them plastic things on, because you don’t want to look at all those ugly dead pieces there.”
Dad chimed in, “You nailed it my boy! Their vanity costs me a fortune.”
Mom said, “You better shut up, or I’ll take these scissors and cut off all that dead stuff hanging on you face!”