The fact that we are alive is, in itself,astonishing. We are all going to die – and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people never have the chance to exist in the first place. The number of potential people that could’ve been born is incalculable. No one should ever complain of being bored or that their lives are too short. They’re lucky to even know what those feelings are, and to have any taste of life to begin with.
This pertains to the very existence of any life form to begin with. When one looks way back to the history of this planet, starting from it’s very inception, they begin to realize just how unlikely the emergence of life really is. It required a precise convergence of factors – the right elements, the right distance from the sun, the right kind of atmosphere, etc – over a period of billions of years to create just the most basic, single-celled forerunners for all life on Earth.
Furthermore, such life was always tenuous, and could have ceased to be at any instance. There have been dozens of extinction events since complex life began; in at least one instance we’re aware of, humans were reduced to mere thousands. As of now, 99% of all life that ever existed on this planet has ceased to be. We and our co-inhabitants represent an insignificant fraction of life, not only proportionately but in terms of the minuscule amount of time we’ve existed – what’s two hundred thousand years of human existence within a span of billions of years that the Earth has existed?
Granted, many of you may take issue with my invoking of human feelings and perceptions with regards to non-existence: after all, if we didn’t exist in the first place, how would we know whether or not we’re fortunate? What makes us luckier than people who never came to being in the first place? And what of those millions of people, past and present, who have experienced such horrific misery – would they not have been better off never existing to begin with?
I’ll stop it there lest I delve into some complex tangent about the nature of existence. All I know, given my short but rich time on this planet, is that I am a supremely lucky person. Most of us who have the luxury and comfort of reading this are. I’ve seen and done so much more than my ancestors, and most of my fellow humans, could have ever imagined – and I’m just an average, middle-class person. The richness of life – all the people we meet, the things we learn, the experience we have, the senses we stimulate – that is what makes me feel so lucky.
What I find most interesting is that I came away with all this after reading the works of atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. The non-religious are frequently held to be unimaginative, curmudgeonly, and outright nihilistic. We’re perceived as intrinsically lacking the capacity to view the world romantically and idealistically. It’s as if faith in a higher power is the only way someone could derive any meaning or sense of purpose in life (though that’s basically what most people think).
But we could see the beauty of the world just fine without religion. Sure, a lot of irreligious folks do indeed fit the stereotype, and not all of them take as deep and philosophical view of the world as Dawkins does, or I try to do. But with enough thought, reflection, and empathy, any of us, regardless of our belief system, should be able to appreciate this wonderful thing we have life. We should soak up as much human experience during our brief existence on Earth as we can. We have only one life, and however short and difficult it could be, it’s already a heck of a lot more than most would-be people ever had.