On the Honor of Having Been

I ran across this the other day; I cannot warrant its authenticity but it rings true for what Richard Dawkins might have said. It’s a theme I have reiterated in my books but never knew Dawkins had stated it so magnificently:

“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.We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred?”

My take on these dismal probabilities had been expressed in my novel ‘Irreversible Processes’ as follows:

Thus, disconsolate with improbabilities, he began thinking of Helen his ‘only-child twin’. Had Ray felt her up there looking down? How utterly absurd. All that was left of Helen was up on the ridge overlooking the Canyon Creek Reservoir, not up in the rafters of SAFECO Field for Christ’s sake. She was lying flat on her back in a coffin facing up into the void… rotting. ‘She?’ No, she wasn’t lying up there. Only what was left of her body was up there. None of the molecules and atoms of which ‘Helen’ was now composed… or decomposed… had even been a part of the charming child whom he had grown up ‘loving’, nor even of the Homecoming Queen to whom he had first ‘made love’. The aging Helen, whose death had devastated him, was physically completely different than all the earlier Helen’s, even if continuously recognizable in form, a beautiful form now vanished from heaven and earth.

He was completely devoid of thoughts for a few moments of meditative incomprehension.

Then the improbabilities of the origin of the ‘only-child twins’ that Helen had related to him intruded on his thoughts. On that night so long ago when their mothers had supposedly conspired unbeknownst to their unsuspecting, but eager, husbands to synchronously conceive children so that Helen and he could grow up together.

So what? Over several nights each of their fathers had probably contributed a quarter of a billion unique haploid possibilities from which their conspiratorial mothers could pretend to ‘plan’ their families. At conception each of their parents contributed a haploid cell that was only one of many millions of possible combinations of chromosomes in their own individual genetic make up, not counting the inevitable crossover that occurs during meiosis, further complicating the picture.

On one surreal conspiratorial night there had been on the order of ten-to- the-thirtieth power of possible sets of ‘only-child twin’ zygotes anxious to be realized instead of just Helen and him. If all these quasi actualized contenders had stood in line, hands locked, to try out for the roles in the ‘only child twins’ production, the line would have extended hundreds of times further than the accepted diameter of the universe itself – even if Ray did not accept that particular limitation as fact. All but Helen and he had been turned away, losers, with no ‘right to life’. Was it for bad acting? No, just the fickleness of fate. He and Helen had been lucky to be the ones to have won the lottery to live at all.

After a moment’s silent meditation, his mind raced on. Helen had been only one in ten-to-the-fifteenth of the possibilities for whom she might have been. Ray noted after a brief calculation that the earth had a surface area of about ten-to-the-thirteenth square feet. Therefore, if all these possible Helens had been realized and stood with arms at their sides, packed in like sardines as close as they would fit on an earth without oceans, it would take hundreds of earths just to contain them. Grieving for each of them was beyond the capability of the human heart… truly overwhelming grief. Honest pro-lifers must be a very sad lot.

How many in that combinatorial DNA lottery of only-child-twins would have been as compatible and could have experienced the joy that he and Helen had in actuality? The sequence of intermittent joy and sorrow had been essential to their roles. How many of the alternative Helens would have knocked Cousin Julie on her butt in those key lines of her role? Those were all non-questions. He could not “feel” anything for any or all of those hapless souls “looking down” on this, their sole sullen unelected representative who had been lucky from the beginning. One must let them all go to whatever nether world reclaims collapsed wave functions and lost possibilities. The tragedy of not having lived at all. One had to let them all go – even the actual Helen now.

Ray was glad he hadn’t broached these topics for the reporter on national TV. It would have been even worse than what he had done with Tim. They would have hauled him off in a straight jacket. But nothing Ray ever said was intelligible to hardly anyone anyway. Just Lesa.

Finally, in a more sanguine frame of mind, he looked out into the real world he had luckily been brought into up in the hospital in Concrete to experience all its sensations.


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