When I was a child, I used to stare in the mirror and allow myself to be completely baffled by consciousness. I’d peer into my reflection and wonder why I came to be, why anyone I knew came to be, how we are all so incredibly improbable and ephemeral and yet – here.
Living and breathing.
Loving, connecting, experiencing.
The concept of existence was terrifying. I hadn’t yet found it beautiful.
Existence was paralyzing in its significance.
The first time that the inherent improbability of circumstance sunk in, I felt as though nothing in my life really mattered and that I was just a result of math and chance. I had just learned about in vitro fertilization from my mother. I’m a test tube baby. I was frozen for five years. My parents told me they had wanted more kids, but I was the only stubborn little baby-to-be who survived the freezer. But why my little string of DNA? Mama told me it was because I was resilient. But come on, can a collection of cells embody the concept of resilience? Maybe, but I was annoyed by that because (stubborn as I am) I wanted to believe that resilience was something that I built myself, not something I was predisposed to have because my DNA was great at surviving in a freezer. It was something of an identity crisis. I was flirting with nihilism before I knew the concept existed.
I remember reading about two nuclear bombs that were very nearly (accidentally) detonated in North Carolina in 1961. If that had come to fruition, I wouldn’t exist. My mother wouldn’t exist. The world would be incredibly different (and yet, probably just the same). My particular world wouldn’t exist at all. But does that matter? To me, certainly, but to anyone else? The people I love would know no other reality, no world in which I existed and had any sort of impact on their lives.
And so, what horrors in this world’s past have kept wonderful people off this planet? Which trajectories never happened? Which lovers will I never kiss, because they never existed, but could have if one little moment had progressed in a slightly different fashion? Which joys will the world never know? Which traditions and rituals failed to stand the test of time, because some douche in the 3rd century lost the paperwork? What if he hadn't?
Parallel universes are therefore a favorite mind-wandering indulgence. I can live every version of reality. So can my mother, my friends, every soul in the world. Consciousness can be fluid and malleable, not ephemeral and terminal. Circumstance matters so very little, so pain is never the end. And yet every moment is significant because it shapes your current reality. Every little joy is a moment for celebration because it shouldn't have happened, not by the laws of math. One can be a third party bemused observer of life.
My life is improbable. And that makes everything more beautiful.
Note: I wrote this post in April 2015, months before I knew Remote Year existed. I found myself wandering down the same philosophical path recently and thought it was relevant to post.
Header image: the incomparable Amanda Adams