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.