I sit on the couch, alone in our family room, a mundane, solitary act. Until it occurs to me that this piece of furniture came from the labor and resources of thousands around the globe and stretching back in time. Workers manufactured it; people built the businesses that produced it; other business owners and employees extracted the raw materials; financiers, designers, engineers, and machinists made possible the equipment to shape fabric, wood, metal.
Each aspect of my life rides similar ripples: the people who made my car, who passed the driving laws, who regulate quality, who set the working conditions. The roads arose from endless interlocking effort: legal, material, imaginative. Every other driver I pass holds my life in her hands. My every breath turns on a universe of people I will never know. Change a moment of action or circumstance, and I disappear like smoke.
Most of the time, I take this for granted and cling to the fiction that my life turns by my striving alone. It’s unsettling to consider how little control I have. But in my more lucid moments, I wonder what to make of the life the universe had deposited on my doorstep.
I don’t deny life’s difficulty, and I certainly don’t diminish its pain and suffering—either my own or the sometimes dire circumstances that others around the world endure. Neither do I deny the choices I have made and their impact. I only mean that every life exists only because of an infinite web of events and circumstances that we have done nothing to bring about and that could, with minute adjustments, have been otherwise. The universe, from the Big Bang (and before?) up to the present moment of my writing literally has placed me right here, right now.
What does this mean? What should I make of it?
Many of us answer those questions by naming some source of existence, or by accepting a name provided to us: Jesus, Jehovah, Allah, chance, the Great Spirit, fate. Many adopt the answers encoded in a particular narrative or creed. And from those answers we justify our good fortune. At times in my life, I have followed that path as well; at times I have found it comforting, even sustaining. I have sometimes pretended that I have earned the life handed to me (the good parts, anyway) and that others have not. But I did nothing to earn this skin, this gender, this mind, this body, my parents, the time into which I’ve been born, any of it. I earned neither its blessings nor its challenges.
Like many others, I’d like a long, peaceful life, and safety for those I care love. I want respect, admiration, material security. But has creation unfolded in this way simply so I can have a comfortable house and well-dressed children?
What does this life that I’ve been given ask of me? How will I respond to what it asks? That depends on my response ability. It feels more true to me now to approach my life as the answer rather than fold my existence into a pre-scripted set of answers. Since these questions flow from the puzzle of my existence, the answer must come from me.
I cannot find that answer by picking and choosing from reality. If everything has conspired to shape this life, I must respond to it all as it is: I must experience it, accept it, and to engage honestly with the truth of each moment, not with what I want that truth to be. The pre-scripted answers simply will not do. The answer to the question of my life will come in the post script. My life is the script. I am writing it now.