Life can take you by surprise.
Sometimes, it’s nothing but a soft-packed powdery snowball that hits you in the face. It breaks apart on your nose and showers your head and shoulders with frozen particles that slip down your collar and make you scream, laugh and shiver.
Sometimes, a stone inside the snowball turns the snow into ice. When this hits you in the face, your nose is smashed flat, your upper lip is split, and your front teeth are broken. You feel numb, and your lower lip and chin feel wetter and warmer than they should. The pain starts. Your tongue finds that there are now sharp edges where your front teeth used to be. You find chunks of tooth enamel in your mouth. Your upper lip no longer puckers like it used to. The bridge of your nose swells up and the pain is a constant and hateful agony.
That’s life. That’s what it does.
Then you scab over and heal. Bones knit. Stitches dissolve. Your scars remind you of what life can do. Your body becomes a monument to your accidents and injuries. Your mind remembers it all. Its fundamental structure changed with each trauma. As you age, you manage these hurts and aches as best you can. Old age does not, indeed, come alone.
Life is change. It doesn’t matter how well and hard you plan: life will always be throwing snowballs at you. Some people are lucky and are hit with the soft-packed powdery stuff. Others are not so fortunate and get hit by the hard motherfuckers. It doesn’t matter how much you jink and weave because you can’t dodge them all. We all get hit by an extinction event snowball at some point. Our lives are finite, and as the saying goes, nobody gets out of it alive.
But life is also incredibly and impossibly precious.
The Universe is thought to be approximately fourteen billion years old. When we peer out with our space telescopes we see only a tiny portion of what is actually there. Astronomers talk of the visible Universe and what lies beyond. It could go on forever. Nobody knows. When we look deep into the Cosmos we see billions of galaxies. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is an average galaxy within those billions. Our star, the Sun, is an average star among the billions of stars within the Milky Way. The Earth is one tiny planet, one of eight, that orbits that average star, and it is impossible to say just how average the Earth is, or how special.
Earth is approximately four and a half billion years old, and the elements, the raw materials that make up the Earth, the Sun and all the planets in our Solar System were forged in stars as part of the nuclear fusion process ten billion years in the making. The Earth orbits in the Goldilocks Zone around our star, not too close and not too far, but just right, so that water is liquid on the planet’s surface. Water, as a liquid, is a universal solvent and is the perfect substance within which molecules can dissolve and combine with others to build bigger molecules. About three point seven billion years ago, those molecules became complicated enough to self-replicate by natural chemical processes, and soon they combined by reproduction into what we call life.
Over the following three point three billion years, a mammal evolved that would later be labelled as homo sapiens sapiens. That mammal would become the dominant primate species on the planet. It’s only been a species for about three hundred thousand years. That’s a mere 0.00002 percent of the age of the Universe. Practically no time at all in the great scheme of things.
Statistically speaking, given the staggering amount of galaxies and stars and planets, the existence of liquid water (or equivalent) on some of those planets and the natural chemical processes that combine these elements, we know life should inevitably occur. Earth is proof of that. Does it follow that if there is one such planet, there might be many more? It is statistically probable that we are not alone, that life could appear elsewhere, somehow, given the right combination of conditions and a little bit of time. Relatively speaking, its probabilities all the way down.
Within all of that universal immensity and practical infinity, we find ourselves on Earth: we circle a star that is hot enough and stable enough, just far enough away to allow water to remain liquid. The failed suns we call gas giants orbit farther from the Sun and their mass and gravity help deflect or consume most space rocks and comets. We have a moon with a stable orbit that creates tides and predictable dynamism on the surface.
And that’s it: a tiny place in the void, the blue marble, a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
It’s a place that has remained stable over billions of years. Stable enough to allow life to evolve into ever more complex expressions. It’s come close to losing all that life several times. Ask the dinosaurs, the most well-known of mass extinctions. All life left on Earth is but a tiny fraction of all the species that have ever lived here. It’s only because of a very remote probability, a freak statistic and a shit-load of luck that we find ourselves here with a brain that can observe and think and reason. It’s a practical wonder that we even exist.
So. Life’s a bitch and a bit of a marvel. So what?
I’ve spent long periods of my life worrying about what people will think if I let them in. There are perfectly sound reasons for my feeling that way. For a long time, I didn’t have the self-knowledge or wisdom to understand what I was doing. I knew I wanted to write, and I continued to write, but I found it hard to share it. I was scared. It took me a lot of reading, writing and thinking to understand that I’m nothing, less than nothing. We stand fascinated at the mayfly living its life in a day, but in the deep time of the age of the Universe, our lives flicker for only the most minute of moments. It’s like we are hardly here at all.
What use are ego and fear when we are such insignificant beings who live for such an impossibly fleeting moment?
In our own ways, in our primate brains, we are all scared. Our animal ‘primitive’ brain is still there. It’s still doing what it’s done for millions of years: to try and keep us safe and alive and able to reproduce. If our brains were all neo-cortex, would we be any better than machines? It’s in our older animal brains where our deeper emotions emerge. Those emotions define what it means to be human. Those emotions are the human condition. It is natural for us to fear the unknown and to want to make our lives as safe, emotionally and physically, for ourselves as we can. But these feelings can go too far and may inhibit us from being what we can be.
So, at the universal scale of time and space, does any of it matter? No. Not one bit.
It doesn’t matter what I do or what people say or how scared I become because…none of it matters. I don’t find that a nihilistic thought and it isn’t depressing or scary to me. It’s liberating. I’m freed, not from responsibility or blame, but from my fear. How can I be afraid if everything is up for interpretation? When the Universe is so big and so young?
I find meaning and value in my life in those I love and care about, and if I’m lucky, who care and love me in return. There is meaning in how I treat them, look after them, and treasure them. I want this network of people that are close to me to have everything they need.
I find meaning and value in what I help to create. I want these creations to be and make a positive influence in those lives that engage with them.
Considering how we got here, through all that time and space, beating the odds and with the potential for life to beat the shit out of us, I’d still rather be here and thinking than not. Wouldn’t you?
It’s great to be alive. Every single one of us billions is unique, every one statistically improbable. Each looks at the world from their own point of view so that everything is truly relative. How can we make any sense of it? I do it by writing, by trying to make sense of all the ideas flying around in my head, trying to be aware of whose point of view I’m telling the story from, and hopefully come to some kind of understanding. Some kind of truth.
I’m focused and working hard on the things that mean the most to me. It’s the only thing that makes sense, it’s why I’m here. I’ve said goodbye to my ego since it didn’t mean shit. I’m going to bypass that whole process. I will create and care and hope that my efforts reach the people that need it the most. I’ll succeed or I won’t. That’s fine. I’ll keep going no matter what. What else am I going to do?
I’m a writer and I’m the best me when I write. I choose to live this way. I am lucky to be able to make that choice. That is reason enough to attempt it.
Life is the best and most precious thing that each of us has. Being alive and us is incredibly unlikely. But we are here, we are alive and we can choose for ourselves.
What have we got to lose?