Archive for the ‘How cool is it that we get to exist at all?’ Category

I think I may finally have expressed, in a Facebook discussion of all things, something I’ve been trying to say for years: my wonder at how amazing it is that we get to exist:

I don’t get the “humans are special” view. Too much time studying astronomy, I guess, and trying to comprehend how big the universe really is. Take a look at this. I look at it whenever I need a pick-me-up, and I’ll explain why I find it so comforting. The sun is a very small star and the earth is just a dot compared to the sun. There are billions and billions of other stars in the universe. We find organic compounds in meteorites. There’s bound to be life elsewhere. It’s just too easy. And if there’s life elsewhere, if it really is as easy as putting the right compounds together with a perfectly ordinary orbit around a perfectly ordinary star, then we’re not special; we’re just another part of the universe.

But that’s the best part! Incomprehensible numbers of particles and four very simple forces acting out an unimaginably complex dance led, in this particular part of the universe, to humans. Given the initial conditions, it could not have happened otherwise. That means we’re a basic part of the universe. We belong here. We’re integral to the plot of the existence of everything. We are exactly where we should be.


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The Earth is going round the Sun and the Sun is going round the center of the Milky Way, which itself is careening through space at speeds we can only poke at with math, numbers we can write down but not even begin to comprehend. We are just one of probably billions of planets with life in the universe, almost certainly with religions of their own. We are nothing; the existence of our entire evolutionary line is an astronomical eye-blink. Ants live longer compared to us than we do compared to the most short-lived star.

And religions want to say that this universe was made for us?

It couldn’t find us if it tried.

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I turn 30 a month from today. I’m not sure how I feel about it; I’ve been preparing for it for long enough…and it’s better than the alternative…

I once heard my aunt Susan say that every decade has been better than the last, and I’ve already seen that in my own life, with no reason for it not to continue. I like having the experience of living longer, but I’m still absolutely terrified of not existing any more (which every birthday brings me closer to) — not like I’m going to know about it, but when you don’t believe that there’s anything after death, this tiny little life becomes indescribably precious.

That might seem like a good reason to go and do whatever you want every second of every day, but that kind of thinking doesn’t produce real happiness. Real happiness comes from knowing you can take care of yourself, from connecting with other people and making strong relationships, from understanding of self and others, and (for me at least) from understanding how the world works. And it takes work to develop these things. If you just run away every time you feel something unpleasant, you’ll end up with a general unhappiness that you won’t be able to shake. But if you face your problems and overcome them, you develop the sense of self and strength of character that are absolutely necessary for good relationships and a good life.

I’ve been trying to describe this for years now and I still don’t feel like I’ve ever managed to express it.

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This happens often, and it has been happening for the last two years or so. Sometimes I just can’t believe this is real. I want to ask him: “Are you sure you love me?” and then I want to ask myself: “Am I sure I love him?” Because it doesn’t seem possible that …I can have this? No, that’s not it. We can have it? No. It can exist? That’s it.

Did you see that movie Return to Me with Minnie Driver and David Duchovny? That first part where his wife dies in a car crash? I know movies have to have a conflict, so of course nobody can just have this great relationship and not have something Happen, so every great relationship in a movie gets messed up somehow…and I recognize that my perception of relationships has been shaped much more by movies than I would like. But it just doesn’t seem like something like this can exist. Like it’s out of balance somehow.

I know exactly how lucky I am.

I expect it’s the same for everyone, with nagging worries that never really go away. Everybody has fears. You take reasonable precautions and go about your days. Like Zoe said in Firefly, “I ain’t so afraid of losing something that I ain’t gonna try to have it.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that having it, and being so vulnerable to the possibility of losing it, is damned scary.

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In response to the question “What’s it like outside where you live?” on Reddit:

Moved here from 3 hours north, the western suburbs of Chicago, a few years ago. I am so sick of flat, featureless (unless you count the cookie-cutter houses) land and I really hope that when he graduates, he gets a job in California.

Course, I don’t really mind the flatness when I go for a bike ride, which is at least twice a day as I have no car but have to get to work.

It is currently 36 degrees F at 1 pm, and grey. This morning we had freezing rain, which stopped before I left home thank God, and there was plenty of salt on the roads so there was no ice for the bike to slip on.

It’s flat; the grass is olive green with white trim from the unusually-timed snowfall after Thanksgiving; the sky and the retention pond outside my window are grey; the wind cuts like a frozen sword and I’m asking for windproof cycling gear (especially pants and gloves) for Christmas because I can’t afford to buy it myself. But I love the cold when I’m wrapped up in a soft blanket in front of the computer with the cat asleep in my lap, last week he stared out the window at the falling snow and meowed plaintively at me for explanation, Saturday night I rode my Christmas-light-wrapped road bicycle with ten or fifteen others in the Parade of Lights around downtown Champaign, and few things in life are better than coming in from a bike ride in the cold and sitting down with a big mug of hot chocolate or mocha.

And when spring finally comes the whole town and countryside will be covered in green, and the whole world will sing to me as I ride under the gloriously open sky through the silent corn and soy fields outside town.

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