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.
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway. — Earl Nightingale
Time is a measure of change — that’s all it is. Time doesn’t exist in a vacuum. If there’s nothing there — nothing changing — time stops. There is no time. How do you measure it? You can only measure it by change. So if nothing changes there is no time. And if a lot changes, time slows down… That’s the secret of experience… If you have a life full of change, full of novelty, full of interesting things, full of risk — because those things don’t come without risk — you live longer. I don’t care if you die when you’re 27, you live longer than the person who gets up and goes to work and puts in their 70 or 80 years and then croaks. You’ve lived longer. Not only more interesting, not only better, but actually longer, because time stretches for you. — Dr. Christopher Ryan (Tangentially Speaking ep. 79)
One. That’s all you get. Just one.
The realization was terrifying; but a second look made it liberating.
There’s something unique about riding a bike. Just over a year ago, I began to train for a long distance mountain bike ride. I spent a lot of time on my bike the next few months. Lots of time–enough to think, reflect on my experiences, dwell on life. That’s when it happened. I realized I only had one and that I was already in its midst.
He wrote that there really is no past, that there really is no future.
How do we experience the past? We look to history books, documentaries, movies; stories from our parents, grandparents, and tribal elders; and most importantly, we have memories. Our own memories remain our most potent source of knowledge about the past because they were based on direct experience. But all of these are things we experience in the present. We don’t read or watch movies in the past – we read and watch in the present. We don’t hear stories in the past – they are told to us in the present. And our memories, they fit the bill too – memory recall occurs in the present moment.
What about the future? You might say, “Well I’ve been planning to do this and do that. Those are in the future.” Well, no; they’re not. Those are called plans. Plans are nothing more than intentions, nothing more than a visualized action. Any guesses as to when exactly we formulate those intentions, those visualizations?
It was late May and my trip was just a couple of weeks away. I was out on one of my last major rides before I left and I wanted to see just how far I could go. It had been a hot day and the trail I rode cut through pines before it entered an arid, un-vegetated landscape.
I rode to the far terminus of the trail before I turned around and started back. I was just a few hundred yards from my car, the other terminus, when my odometer passed the 90 mile mark. That was the furthest I had ever ridden in a single day. I was satisfied to say the least, but I was so close to riding my first century.
Gnats danced in the grass where I sat, just out of eyeshot from the parking lot where my car sat. I snacked while considering my options. I was already exhausted and the day was getting late. If I rode to my car and went home, it would have been a successful day. But 100 miles…it was a milestone just 10 more away.
I remembered that this was my only moment. No past, no future, just this present moment, the only moment to define myself. I finished my snack, jumped back on the bike, and rode away from my car. One hour and ten miles later I loaded my bike and crawled into my car, sore, exhausted, but with my first 100+ mile ride under my belt. I looked at myself in the visor mirror. Salt caked my temples and cheeks and dirt was smeared across my forehead where I had wiped away the sweat; in the middle of it all, a wide, satisfied smile.