I’m thinking that I am, and you are, the most insignificant speck of life (now please don’t get offended just yet!) – a collection of atoms and cells that comes together for a single breath – and then dissipates – and at the same time an absolute, astronomically impossible miracle. I’m thinking that because our existence is so very brief and temporary, that it is also extremely precious. I’m thinking that as I face the new year, I have the space in me to hold both of these realities, to contain the seeming paradox of the complete and utter insignificance of my existence which, at the same time is completely and utterly important, not only for me but for others. Let me explain this a little better.
It all starts in 6th grade sex education class. No, I’m serious. I mean, yeah, I guess it was interesting to learn about how stuff works, but what really left me agog was the sheer impossibility of me existing. The odds of being born are incredible. As in, like, not believable.
According to this article:
Probability of your being born: one in 102,685,000
As a comparison, the approximate number of atoms in the known universe is 1080
Yes, the author explains his calculations:
Probability of right sperm meeting right egg: one in 400 quadrillion (I thought quadrillion was a made up number, like a bajillion hee hee)
And we are not even looking at meeting the right person, getting pregnant, or your ancestors surviving long enough to reproduce before you came along – in an unbroken genetic line of 150,000 generations.
I remember thinking, “Dang! I won the lottery just by being born!” It is quite astounding and the author’s conclusion is that the odds are so against you being born, that in fact, you are a miracle and that we should all go out and live like one.
I wholeheartedly agree in theory but I will admit not always in practice. I get caught up in the petty dramas of life, the seemingly very important matters, which kind of are important if you are going to live as a human being in society. And I lose sight of the gift it is just to be alive. Embroiled in the details of my life, I sometimes contract and get angry, or upset, or cynical, or whatever, instead of staying with a more expanded, joyful, awestruck point of view. But really now, how very important am I, or the items on the news, political agendas, nasty personal interactions?
Which brings me to Carl Sagan. Stay with me here – I promise it does make sense. Let’s start by saying I’m a big fan. If you haven’t read his books you should. Here’s one of his quotes:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.
Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.
The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.
It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
― Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space
Pretty thought-provoking, wouldn’t you say?
And if you still don’t have an idea of how small the entirety of Earth is, watch this:
Okay, hopefully you follow my train of thought – we are freaking miracles and we are the cosmic equivalent of motes of dust. We are both! Both are true! Wow!
I suppose a person could get a bit depressed realizing the impermanence of all things, the fact that 100 years from now it seems like it won’t matter all that much that I personally inhabited this body on the tiny Earth for a short while, especially if I don’t procreate or develop some sort of long-lasting legacy – except that it does matter. It all matters. We all matter. Every interaction, choice, relationship, chance meeting – it all matters. At least, this is what I choose to believe.
So what does this have to do with ballroom dancing?
Well all these probability numbers and such got me thinking. I’ve always been confounded by the fact that I dance with Ivan. How is it possible out of the over 7 billion people in the world today I not only met him but he had the right skill set and personality for me to work with him? It boggles my mind even further to think that he came from such a far away country as Bulgaria and ended up in Phoenix, Arizona – not to mention his long tale of how he even arrived here. Was it all chance? Or is there something more that guides our fates through this life?
And expand that to my family. Or my friends. Or all of the people I’ve ever known on this Earth. Or the guy I saw at the gas station. Yeah. Him too. Because what are the chances of me seeing him there in that exact space-time? Does even that fleeting graze with another human being contain a precious pearl?
And what about you, reading this blog right now? The fact that you and I are both alive, at the same time, and that you found this blog (Um, as of 2012 there were over 3.5 billion webpages run by WordPress viewed each month). The fact that we connected is kind of a miracle too! It’s enough for me to live in spellbound wonder at everything in my life. I’m not even kidding!
But back to the deep stuff, the other thought I’ve been thinking is that I live in this world. In this world there are tsunamis and rapes and people kill little kindergartners. There is depravity and brutality and cruelty. There is genocide and war. There is unimaginable suffering, starvation, sickness, and pain. It is overwhelming to think about it. But the reality is, this is part of the world I live in.
There is, of course, another part of the world I live in which is achingly beautiful. It is my niece’s smile, Christmas trees dripping with ornaments, honey-glazed ham, pillows, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, grass beneath my feet, clean drinking water. It is my neighbor that I can walk to and brighten her day with flowers. It is having enough to eat, laughing hysterically with friends, dancing, hugging, and loving. It is compassionate and kind and generous and where people care for one another.
As I look to the dawn of the new year I wish I didn’t have to reconcile these two worlds. Like the paradox of being both insignificant and important, I must acknowledge that I am a part of this quandary. Because I believe we are all connected. To get cosmic about it, we are all made of the stuff of stars. No seriously, it’s true; read those books by Carl Sagan. The short version, as I understand it, is that stars are matter generators. They combine Hydrogen to make Helium. Add enough Hydrogens and Heliums together and you can make every element on the Periodic Table. We are all made of matter, atoms, elements, as is every creature, object, and substance on Earth and in the entire cosmos. I mean, matter is constantly arranging, rearranging, dissolving, dissipating, coming together and falling apart. But you can’t destroy the building blocks of matter. They are endlessly recycled through the eons and right now they’ve organized into you, and me, and the world as we know it. Maybe the same atoms that are in me were in Hitler or my dog or the sun. We could all literally be composed of tiny bits of all that has ever existed. So anyways, my point is, it’s just as possible that I am as connected to all the ugly stuff as I am to all the wonderful stuff. Well, maybe it’s not a part of my everyday reality, but it is part of all of reality and that sucks. And knowing that I can’t “fix” all the problems of the world, even as I feel a connected part of them, I wonder what is it I can do?
For me the answer is partly found in setting my intentions for the coming year. It may not be much, but I do know that I am expansive enough to, if not to reconcile the paradoxes of our existence, then to honor and acknowledge them, and in doing so live an empowered life of urgency. In the coming year I vow to trust, embrace, share, dance, and revel in the mystery and magic of life. I vow to do what I can to shift the world, in my miniscule corner of this grand universe to be, even if only infinitesimally so, the more compassionate, generous, and loving one. I will continue to do my work and complete my transformation. I will be of service and share of myself.
On the precipice of the coming year I feel an urgency for each and every one of use to take on our own lives like no kidding. To be “selfish” but in the right ways – ways that nourish our souls so we can express our art and our purpose. I believe each and every single one of us has our work to do, but that each and every one of us is vitally, irreplaceably, important. Because the truth is we don’t have the option of whether we affect one another or not, we only get the choice of how we affect each other. And looking at how small and precious we are, or even how puny the entirety of planet Earth is, in the vast schemes of stars and galaxies, I think it becomes even more important that we each discover who we are, be that person on purpose, and share our unique talents, gifts, and flavor for this life. Our very existence is so precious, let’s make a pact not to waste the few grains of sand given us in our hourglasses.
As for me, I will spend some of those precious grains, as I’m sure you can guess, dancing! (And then writing about dancing! lol) Because it lights me up, fuels my soul, and I know it is part of my purpose. And I will be intentional about being more appreciative of the magnificence of life, and the miraculous probabilities that occur in the everyday. 2014 will be a year I live in wonder and amazement. It is a year I vow to live like the miracle I am. I hope I can encourage others to do the same.
But the real question is, what about you? The best New Year’s gift for me would be to hear from you! What lights you up? What are you intentions for the coming year? How will you live as the miracle you are?