It was there for just an instant—a bright speck of light on the horizon.
I had been sitting, crossed-leg, my notebook on my knee, pen in hand. I looked up from my page–just for a moment—to take in the view. I was perched atop a great granite outcrop, high on a ridge.
My eyes swept over the landscape, from the mountains growing on the eastern horizon, and westward across the patchwork of farmland broken by green pine covering the ridges and ravines. And there it was. To the southwest, a flash of light.
There’s a highway there—a four lane artery that stretches to the south. The light came from where the road bends, just before dropping into a valley and disappearing into the shade.
I watched the area for a few minutes and the flash of light did not repeat itself.
It was likely just the sun being reflected off a windshield.
I wondered at the odds of that happening: for me to see light reflected off a windshield more than 10 miles away.
First, what are the odds that 70 million years ago a plume of intrusive magma—destined to be granite—would force its way into a thick layer of basalt? And what are the odds that between 12 and 15 thousand years ago glacial floods would eat away that basalt, exposing the several granite monoliths? And what are the odds that I would be sitting on top of one of those monolithic outcrops at that exact moment? Astronomical. That’s not to mention the fact that the sun was in the perfect position in the sky, given the angle of the car windshield. And let’s not forget I looked up just in time to see it.
This bright flash was something miraculous.
But even more miraculous … you. What are the odds of you existing? It took billions of years for stars to create the elements that you are made of. The earth only existed for a billion years before recognizable cells came into existence. Another 3.5 billion years and this planet saw mammals. Modern anatomical humans have only been around for a quarter million years, and in that history you can find the genetic material that you are harboring inside all of your cells.
Imagine a single change to this sequence of events, a sequence that spans billions of years—an inconceivable amount of time. A single change could have changed everything.
If the chances of me seeing that light were astronomical, that makes the probability of your existence … cosmic.
Half of the art of living is a talent for dying. — Huston Smith
Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed they create our courage and our wisdom. — M. Scott Peck
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.
— C.S. Lewis
I originally wrote the letter below for a friend graduating from high school, but after revisiting it several time over the past year, I’ve begun to wonder if I didn’t actually write it to myself. So here it is, after a few minor changes, just for you. Please keep a copy for yourself and revisit it as often as you like…I do.
There is so much I want to say, but frankly, there are not enough pages to hold the words I would give to you if I could. I’m not much of a gift giver, or receiver for that matter; I think that’s just because I value something different from most people. So this letter is your gift–it is an attempt to give you a taste of what I value, something I hope you’ll be able to understand and that will remain timeless.
When I sat down to write this, I thought I might write about my own experiences, about the lessons I’ve learned, what I might tell my younger self. During that reflection though, I realized how important those experiences are to me, how important they were to my growth and development as a person. So instead of writing some crappy lecture on life, I’m going to trust you to figure out that stuff on your own. Humans have the capacity to learn from the successes and failures of others, but that doesn’t mean we should give up first hand experience. We can only experience our own lives, so go out and take risks, make mistakes, do something you might consider regrettable later. Live passionately.
My friend, it truly is incredible how many people not only let fear govern their lives, but also let it downplay their passions. But you have the gumption most people do not; please don’t lose it. It will become more valuable as you pursue your passions and inevitably meet the resistance of the doubters who will try to impose their own fear on you and on the way you lead your life.
I do not believe fear should be discounted. It is an important experience in itself, but not one that should influence your choices. Cliché? Yes. Easier said than done? Absolutely. So let me get to your “gift” which is nothing more than a simple idea.
Time is a misconception. Neither past nor future actually exist. The past is just a collection of memories which you experience in the present and the future is nothing more than a present daydream hiding in the empty spaces of your consciousness. This means there is only one moment that exists, the only moment you ever live: the present moment. Keep this in mind when you think about what you want from life, because now is the only chance you will ever have to achieve those goals. Now is the only chance you have to define yourself as a child, parent, sibling; as a friend and teammate; as a student and teacher; as a partner and as a lover. Never let a chance to define yourself pass.
And fear? Well, we are creatures of habit. We tend to stick with a decision once we have made up our mind (even if it’s a bad decision). So, when faced with terror that stands between you and your passion, realize it only takes a split second’s worth of courage to decide you are going to stand up to that terror. Facing fear head on is not nearly as difficult as deciding to do so. Remember, now is the only chance you have to define yourself.
I hope this bit of philosophy isn’t too much for you, Friend, but I hope you hold onto this letter and glance back at it every now and then, if for nothing else, as validation of your potential, of which you have an abundance. So surround yourself with like-minded people, read inspirational quotes and anecdotes every chance you get, and remember that what you see is not necessarily as important as how you see it. The way in which you view the world will determine how you live your life.
Now let me close with one of my favorite quotes: “life begins where you comfort zone ends.” Always explore and remember that mistakes are inevitable, as are regrets. But it is better to regret something you did than something you did not do and when you do err, it may as well be on the side of passion. Welcome to the rest of your life.