Thursday, January 1, 2009
We are infinitesimally small.
We are miniscule animals on a tiny planet circling a small star in a giant galaxy. There are at least 200 billion stars just like ours in our galaxy alone. And there are anywhere between 10 to 100 billion other galaxies.
When you zoom out from a single person to the Earth to our sun to the 200 billion other stars in our galaxy and to the billions of other galaxies, you realize we are entirely irrelevant.
The Universe is approximately 12 to 15 billion years old. The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. Homo sapiens have been around for roughly 100,000 years. Earliest recorded history of humans dates back to at most 30,000 years ago (counting cave art here).
100,000 years among 15 billion years is a cosmic joke. It doesn’t even qualify as a hiccup in time. The average life expectancy for humans is under 80 years. The insignificance of that period time within 15 billion years cannot be overstated. Our lives go by quicker than a cosmic second.
We are so small as to be nearly nonexistent. Yet we are led to believe that we are the center of the damn universe. Everything we do is so important. We lead these careful, guilt-ridden, cautious lives only to die abruptly and disappear into cosmic insignificance.
I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know what it is or what it means. But we have this incredible gift of life for a very short period of time – and we spend it arguing and worrying and fighting and waiting.
What are we waiting for? What – heaven? Hell? You have got to be kidding me. Please don’t tell me that you are wasting the one precious life you have waiting around for the fairytales of our ancestors. Our ancestors thought the stars were holes in the sky. They thought the Earth was flat, that the Sun revolved around us and that there is a man with a gray beard up in the sky.
My guess is that if you brought back anyone who wrote our ancient religions, they would be amazed at what we have found out since the time they lived. But they would be even more amazed that people still believed what they had written in their utter ignorance.
I can see them shaking their heads now, “But why would you believe things we wrote thousands of years ago when you have already proven they are not true? Are you nuts?”
“We wrote that woman came from the rib of man because we had no fucking idea where women came from. You’ve traced back the origin of life and you’re still wondering if we knew something you don’t know? We were practically cavemen. We knew less science than your average third grader now. We thought natural disasters happened because God was angry at us. You think we would have written such nonsense if we knew about tectonic plate movements? Please don’t tell me you still believe what we wrote when we simply didn’t know better.”
You are going to die one day and on your deathbed you are going to think, “What have I done with my life?” What will you answer? Have you lived enough? Have you truly tasted life? Will you be able to tell yourself that you gave life your best run?
Look, I’m not telling you to quit your accounting job and run off into fields of flowers. Life might be a flash in the pan in cosmic time, but it lasts quite awhile from our perspective. You have to have balance. Enjoy the short term while planning for the long term. Enjoy yourself without infringing on others. Hedonism is not the answer. But a stodgy, unadventurous life isn’t either.
There is something liberating about meaninglessness. We are cosmically insignificant, so who cares what we do? If you conquer the world and a comet runs into our planet three and half million years from now and wipes us out of history, your conquest will mean nothing. If you were a pauper who did nothing particularly grand with your life, history will not record that either. If you are gay or straight, an artist or a banker, a doctor or a patient, a cheater or a victim, a king or a peasant, history will not care. The steamroller of time and space will roll over your existence. No one is keeping a ledger. So, for the love of God, just please live the life you want to live, not the one you think you should live.
There is no cosmic judge of your life. You will not be given extra credit at the end. You will only have what you have lived.
Life is not a pop quiz. You will not graduate on to another life based on your score in this one.
I am reminded of the story of the drowning priest: A priest is on a boat that starts to sink. Everyone gets on a lifeboat and they invite the priest on the boat. He declines, “God will save me, I don’t need a lifeboat.” As the ship sinks further, another shipping vessel comes by and offers to rescue the priest. The priest again turns down the offer, “God will save me, I don’t need your ship.” Finally, as the situation becomes precarious, a helicopter is sent in to take the priest to safety. But again he refuses saying, “God will save me …”
As the water is about to overtake him, the priest shouts out to God in anger, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” God replies, “I sent you a boat, a ship and a helicopter. What else did you want me to do?”
If you believe in God, it is an insult to Him to not cherish the life He has already given you. He has sent you a boat, a ship and a helicopter and you’re still wondering when salvation is going to come around. You have been given life so that you may live it.
Our very insignificance is our salvation. If there is no meaning to life, there is also no pressure. Meaninglessness is liberating. The universe is indifferent to your tiny existence, so you might as well live it up. There will be no cosmic retribution or redemption. So, you are free to live as you choose.
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