“Our most important decision in life is our choice of parents.”
A good friend and colleague just gave birth to her second child. She and her husband are remarkable people! Their children are privileged in every way…and those children will themselves likely grow up to be a blessing to the rest of us throughout their own adult lives. [How do we know this? Well, as we meteorologists like to say, “Persistence is the best forecast.”]
So this notion…that our most important decision in life is our choice of parents…is on my mind today.
In that same spirit, perhaps our second most important decision is our choice of planet. And maybe the third is our choice of a period of history in which to live.
You might want to rearrange these three. Feel free!
But the point is, if you’re reading this, congratulations! You have won life’s lottery! You have chosen well, in all three instances – and the odds were really against you.
With respect to the first, you’ve allowed yourself to be born into a family who cared about you, who could afford to feed, clothe and shelter you, a family who made your health and your education a priority until such time as you could fend for yourself. They made sure you entered an extensive web of contacts and friends and support. They encouraged your interest in the dimensions of life that matter: love, and forgiveness, and intellectual inquiry and courage and responsibility…and much, much more. And so you find yourself today with means: skills, and assets, and options. Not everyone around you is so fortunate, are they? And when you surf the internet or read newspapers or watch TV, you’re aware that a world away, or in other parts of your own country, millions of people are living a hardscrabble existence, desperately seeking water clean enough to drink, the next meal for their kids, protection from gangs or another tribe or foreign armies.
Your chances of being born so fortunate? Hard to estimate with any precision, but let’s say one in seven, or maybe one in ten. You’re among the fortunate billion out of the seven billion of us.
And when it comes to the second, you’ve chosen a Goldilocks planet — one that’s not too big, and not too small… just the right composition to support life, and just the right blend of mass, temperature, and gravity to keep those life-sustaining elements handy for billions of years, rather than releasing them to outer space. That nearest star? It’s stable…not one of those highly variable ones, and not going supernova or red Giant or something equally crazy on us…at least not yet. So we find ourselves amidst an absolutely dazzling array of lifeforms, from the tiniest virus to the largest whales, from lichen to giant funguses spanning acres of real estate, and ecosystems, in which all these interact in the most marvelous ways. Furthermore, we find ourselves with minds able to comprehend some of this.
Your chances of being in the right place, on such a planet? Astronomically small. Literally. Astronomers and cosmologists, looking at the hundred billion or more galaxies they know about, and the hundred billion or more stars in each galaxy, still argue about the chances of finding planets supporting intelligent life among these. As all the recent coverage on Kepler-22B notes, only a minority of the planets we’ve been able to find so far fit the bill.
Then there’s the third. As a race we didn’t show up too early, did we? We weren’t around during the Cretaceous, when those pesky saurians ruled the Earth and the world reeked of T-Rex breath. The K-T meteor took care of them. And if you could be alive during any time in recorded history, chances are good you’d choose the present day. Not only do creature comforts abound, but the times are significant. Your life and your work matter – especially as the latter relates to making a living from the Earth’s resources, protecting the Earth’s environment, and/or finding safe haven and safe life style in the midst of Earth’s extremes. Chances are good, whether you’re a natural or social scientist, a policy maker, a practitioner, a journalist, or an educator, some or all of your life and work revolve around these issues.
Think about it. Suppose you’d been born at any time in those hundreds of thousands of years of human experience prior to the last century or so. You wouldn’t have had the tools to study the Earth and how it works. You’d have harbored some truly erroneous ideas…such as…(1) the assimilative capacity of the atmosphere is infinite, (2) the climate never changes, (3) weather is unpredictable. And suppose you weren’t to be born until a couple of hundred years from now. Then you’d be reading about this age in your history books…that golden time when scientists and policymakers made the decisions and took the actions to put the world and its peoples on a more sustainable course. It would all be over but the shouting. Nothing left to do but mopping-up operations. The action would be somewhere else.
So you’ve not only chosen your parents, and your planet well, you’ve landed on history’s sweet spot. You’ve made three good choices!
How about making one more good choice?
Choose to enjoy your labor, and this particular day of it. This is how it feels when things are going well! And this enjoyment is indeed a choice you and I make. We can see the day as good, or vexing, or somewhere in between. And it doesn’t matter if your agency budget has been cut, or the agency reorganization has to be shelved temporarily, or that people are bickering about the environment instead of taking action. It doesn’t matter that my NGO is smaller or less visible than it deserves to be. It doesn’t matter if your boss doesn’t understand you or your work is a stupefying grind. You and I can choose to enjoy the day…and in the process, pay that enjoyment forward.
And where might this enjoyment come from, on even the dreariest of days? From a profound gratitude…a deep thankfulness that those three big decisions have turned out so well.