Not long ago, I decided that these blogs would be updated Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This was a vow to myself to try to make sure that I always maintained a schedule and didn’t haphazardly throw up updates whenever I felt the urge. Sure, it puts a bit more stress on me from time to time, but it also keeps me honest and it lets me see when I’m not being as productive as I should be. Funny enough, this is the first time since I made that decision that my birthday has fallen on one of those days.
What does someone blog about for their birthday? Do I carry on like it’s any other day or make a big deal out of it? Personal modesty tells me to do the former, but my own bullshit advice columns say I should do the latter and take a moment to celebrate surviving another orbit around a ball of blindingly hot plasma. Frankly, the advice holds true because my last couple of years have been a bit rough and I find myself being a bit reflective. It’s easy to get caught up in the dark stuff, but what do we appreciate about life when we stop to think about it? What can someone like me say on a day like today? I guess the best I can do is give you a wonderful contradiction.
The most beautiful part of life is that it has no meaning… except the one we make for ourselves.
No Strings Attached
I’ve known a lot of people who would see that as a bad thing. They would look at what I just said and would come away with it thinking that it’s empty and void of purpose. But I’m telling you, it’s probably the most freeing thing I’ve ever felt. I’m not saying I know everything or that I’m the happiest person on the planet, but I am saying that at my worst moments, that thought has brought me some sense of peace – sometimes even joy.
We don’t owe someone a specific outcome. We aren’t required to live by a certain guideline. We’re free to stumble and make mistakes, free to fail and free to succeed on our own terms. Sure, maybe some things are in the way of us doing what we really want, but in the end a lot of struggles in our lives have to do with personal choices. We create most of our own limitations and we choose how the few external limitations make us feel. We have more power than we like to believe.
Sappy, I know, but hear me out.
We all have problems, always have and always will, but when you take a moment to consider the endless possibilities of what could have happened to you, if you’re reading this, you probably got off a lot easier than you could have. After 13.5 billion years of atoms smashing into each other across the cosmos, 4 billion years of rocks and chemicals coalescing into this blue marble, and a few hundred million years of evolution, a great mass of cosmic scale events has resulted in one result – you. We’re not just the current end product of evolution – we’re the end product of physics, cosmology, and the universe itself. When we’re snuffed out, we’ll cease to really care about what the universe has done, but it spent all of this time getting to us right here and now and the same can be said of the next generation and the one after that. Billions of tiny miracles had to happen for you to get here, acts of chance and probability beyond anyone’s control. And yet, here you sit at a computer, reading my ridiculous ramblings. Of all the dice rolls you could have rolled, this one isn’t really the worst.
When I was younger my mother talked about how much she worried about my mental health and my sister’s. It didn’t come up often, but there was a couple times when professionals raised the question and got my mother tearful. You see, my uncle killed himself not long before I was born and my mother worried that his depression was something that could run deep. Truthfully, I’ve felt it, I think my sister has too. But, thankfully, unlike my uncle we’ve both had something that he didn’t at the time: hope.
I haven’t ever really had a lot in this life. I sit here knowing that there are no surprise parties for me and that there’s a good chance Facebook is going to be the thing that reminds most people this was my birthday. I can safely count the number of people that care on my fingers. But what I do have is the knowledge that I’m lucky to have everything I do. Those people I can count on my fingers are more than I could have had, this one orbit is yet another after a long string that could have been the last. Even my health problems, annoying and debilitating as they may sometimes be, give me a reminder of just how lucky I am to still be here.
I inherited some fairly intense allergies from my father, ironic since he grew up on a farm. But the thing that truly floored me is that when I was a toddler we lived near an oil refinery. On twitter I commented that I’ve seen the side effects those poor bastards in Porter Ranch are experiencing now. In all truth, the symptoms they’re having are the same symptoms that nearly killed me as a kid. A lot of people look at that one video they have of that gas leak with a sense of detachment, but I look at it as if it were the bullet that narrowly missed me.
The fumes from that oil refinery were different than the ones that got to them, weaker by far, but they hit me pretty hard as a toddler. My parents would tell the story often as I was a kid about how there was this one time where my nose just wouldn’t stop bleeding for hours. Toddlers aren’t exactly big, they don’t have a lot of blood in them, so I can’t imagine how much longer I could have gone before it was over. Since then, the headaches come back whenever the air is a little dusty, my sides hurt whenever I push myself a little too hard, and if I get a little too warm I go right back to bleeding out of my face. Most people would panic if they spontaneously started bleeding or woke up in the morning coughing up blood – I got used to it. Thankfully, they’re fairly infrequent now and never last longer than a few minutes.
Another little miracle in my favor.
There are times when I forget that I’m lucky to have some pain from shit floating in the air. I forget that I came out of that better than I could have. Sure, they hurt and I sometimes lose whole days to being unable to breathe easy. There have been some shirts with a little blood stain on them. And, of course, to treat my headaches I do have to use a cocktail of excedrin and benadryl…
But if I hadn’t survived being a toddler I would have missed all the little things to be happy about today. I wouldn’t have those people I can count on my fingers. I couldn’t have been here to watch over my sister’s kids when she was deployed. I wouldn’t have met my dearest friends. I never would have discovered my love for my nerdy, geeky hobbies and interests. I wouldn’t have known how vast and miraculous our universe is. I couldn’t have known how many billions of tiny miracles got me to where I stand today.
Ironically, after using that word so many times today, I don’t believe in the usual definition of “miracles”. I don’t think there’s a magical force that’s guiding everything along some great plan. Like I said as I opened this, I don’t believe our lives are so constrained. I don’t think we’re here to fill some great need or purpose, I think we’re here just to live as well as we can and help others do the same. You do those things, regardless of what you believe, you’re doing things right.
Because in my view, our lack of purpose actually gives life a greater value. We aren’t here to serve a function, so we weren’t necessary to make all of this work. What good we do is of our own choosing. What joy we find is something we’ve been given just for being here. Whatever background you may come from, if you’re lucky enough to have the resources that would let you find this tiny corner of the internet, you’re probably living after a series of tiny miracles too.
So that’s where I stand, grateful for everything despite what troubles I may have. Who knows how long the feeling may last. It’s okay if it doesn’t last for long, we don’t owe it to anyone to be always happy either. But for today I can say that, if my math is correct, I’ve now lived half a decade longer than my uncle did and I’m happy to say it’s because I can see those little miracles. And sure, the things I’m calling miracles aren’t magic, nor are they from some great divine plan. But for a guy who sits in awe of the sheer power of the universe…
They’re close enough.