The Lucky Ones

When the fear of failure grips me, when I’m paralysed by the prospect of a mediocre life in which none of my imagined achievements manifest, when I’m reminded of my own mortality and suddenly aware of the fleeting nature of life, when I can’t convince myself of any fairytale ethereal world beyond the real and only one we have, I think of these words:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here.

I’ve found this, the opening paragraph of Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow, to be a source of unspeakable comfort and inspiration since the first day I read it. These are the words I want spoken at my funeral when I die, and they’re the words I try to carry around with me while I live. They bring a lump to my throat. They make me want to go further, see more, do better. They make me grateful that I showed up at all. They make me want to shake hands with everyone I see, congratulate them on just being here. Well done everyone, we made it.

Image courtesy of mcdlttx‘s photostream on Flickr.

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3 responses to “The Lucky Ones

  1. We didn’t come to this world as entities and we have not taken any other unborn person’s place either. We just are. And yes, I am afraid we do have our mortality to deal with like no unborn person ever has. If I ever want to shake someone’s hand it is because of our shared mortality and not celebration of a fantastic opportunity to have been alive. Dawkins needs to call death a lucky act because he just cannot tell people how dark the universe really is for conscious souls like us. Good for him. It takes more than that to convince me that death is a gift.

    • Hmm. I’m not sure you’ve entirely understood Dawkins’ point (he didn’t actually mean we’ve taken any person’s place, for one thing – just that the number of variations of our DNA is far greater than the number of people who have actually existed).

      And I’m afraid you may need to elaborate, because I don’t fully understand your point either, other than “the universe is a dark place because we’re all going to die”. Unless that was really it, in which case, hey ho!

  2. Such a beautiful quote! Thank you very much for sharing. Loving your blog; nicely written and great fun to read. :)

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