Have you ever stopped to think for a moment how incredibly rare your existence actually is? The odds that you would ever come into being are literally on average a million to one. That’s literally a 0.000001% chance that you would be born. Yet, despite these seemingly insurmountable odds, here you are reading this right now. You are alive, sensing the world around you, learning, growing, experiencing the ups and downs of the human condition. An existence that’s so remarkably inexplicable.
Every kind of life is extraordinary, for the very possibility of its existence is fundamentally astonishing. Far more often there is life that never comes into being than that which does.
So many potential lives never become, are never given the chance at existing. For every human being that’s conceived as the result of one sperm breaching an egg cell, about 999,999 more do not. You are alive today because those 999,999 failed to come into being. Who could they have been? Have you ever considered it? Who were all the potential lives that died because you were the sperm that made it?
What have you done with your life that made their unwanted sacrifice worth it? What have you contributed to this world that made their unbecoming worth it? I have spent a lot of time considering these questions and others, since the deaths of friends and family over the past two years. I’ve also found myself pondering these questions as I have studied my family history.
The amount of premature death I have encountered in my family tree stretching back centuries has affected how I see everything. All the potential lives that never had a decent chance. All the children who never grew up, all the teens that died in their youth, none of them ever knowing what it’s like to experience the things most of us take for granted.
The boy in the picture above was my great uncle, John, at three years of age. That photo is the only known photo of him, he died not long after it was taken. He had a brother who died at an even younger age. From disease to accidents such as drowning, the fragility of life has never been so apparent to me.
Every morning I wake up and think to myself, “Let it not be today.” I feel as though I have so much work to do, so many things yet to write, so much research yet to do, I have now become ever the more aware that life is unpredictable. Every day that I get to experience the sunrise and sunset I am grateful for it. How unbelievable is it that we have all survived for this long, when so many others have not?
We are no more deserving than they, and they were no less deserving than us. Yet here we are, while they have passed into history forgotten by so many. I am no better than they were, no more valuable, no more useful, my life no more necessary in this world.
I constantly question whether I deserve to be alive in comparison to all of those who never got the chance. I think that we all need to take this into consideration every single day. I also think that the shocking truth is that we don’t deserve it. We’re not special, we’re not better, we’re just lucky to have been conceived and survived this long. And every single moment we need to remind ourselves that we need to make the most of it.
I have grown ever the more aware of how wasteful and unimportant so many things in our lives and in society truly are. Just the amount of time and energy that we waste on these things is appalling to me. In many ways it’s disrespectful to those who died young. How dare we fall into the trap of distraction and the sensationalism of utter bullshit, squandering away the rarity of every breathe we take.
I haven’t watched television for the past two months, after realizing just how many hours of my life I wasted sitting in front of that television. When I’m taking my last breaths, will I say to myself, “Damn, I wished I would have watched more television.” No, I certainly will not be saying that. My time can be better spent doing things that are more productive, more meaningful, and useful to my existence.
Every day we are granted an opportunity to live our lives better than the day before. I think that we owe it, not only to ourselves, but to those who never had the chance, to try to live each day better than the one before. One day we will run out of days and the question we will ask ourselves will be something along the lines of, “Did I live the best life possible?”
Ask people who work in the hospice industry and they will tell you that when people are dying, their biggest concerns are whether the people they love know that they love them. They worry about whether they made a difference in this world, whether their life made a positive impact on anyone, and whether or not they will be remembered.
Do something that scares you. Go places you’ve never been before. Become the person you wish other people would be.
Ever since my mom died almost two years ago, I have constantly faced the mortality of my own existence. Too many people fail to see the fragility of life, the shortness of life. There are many dangers out there, but sometimes your greatest danger is becoming complacent and indolent.
By that I mean, too many of us fall into the trap of trying to make a living and failing to ever actually live. After her death, I felt like I needed to live. To get out beyond the familiar. To make up for lost time and missed experiences.
To not just be alive, but to feel alive. To see, to smell, to taste, to hear, to feel new things. To make choices that scared the hell out of me, to consider anything a possibility. To jump at opportunities, to get out of my comfort zone and try new things.
The most tragic thing about becoming an adult is losing that sense of wonder we have as kids. I’ve been trying to get back to that, trying to learn, trying to challenge myself, trying to explore, trying to feel alive.
I encourage you to do the same before it’s too late. Death, while tragic and finite, can be a powerful tool in changing your life. Death is a gift. I don’t mean just the act of dying, but the awareness of our own mortality. When weighed against death, so many things we give attention to are stripped of their falsely perceived importance.
In that moment our awareness transcends the veil of meaninglessness and for some small amount of time we see how lucky we truly are to be alive.
It’s a truth easily lost to the mundane comings and goings of daily life, which is why we must constantly remind ourselves that death is real and that it may be just around the corner.