TIM MADIGAN: Anything Mentionable — You, The Miracle From Another Planet

Oliver Sack’s soaring essay on the end of his life (read it here) somehow reminded me of an experience I had several years ago while camping in Colorado. I had come down from my campsite in the high country to visit friends in the town of Crested Butte. They were husband and wife, both scientists, and they were a high state of excitement when I knocked on the door of their condo.

Oliver Sacks

That morning, they said, researchers had announced the possibility that microscopic life had once existed on Mars. (Or was it Venus?) I understood the implications of that of course, and was excited about the news, too.

But it got me to thinking: such excitement about the possibility of microscopic life on another planet. What if a space probe had found a blade of grass on Mars, or a tree, or a raccoon? What if that probe had landed on another planet and found … you.

Think of the celebration then. You would be jetted back to Earth, feted with a ticker-tape parade down Broadway, would be a guest on the “Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. Moviemakers and book publishers would be lining up with their wallets open, hoping to tell the story of the miracle, you from another planet.

But here is the question I’ve thought about off and on ever since that day in the mountains: Why are you any less miraculous because you happened to be born on Earth? Think of it for a second, the conspiracy of circumstances since the beginning of time, on this beautiful and rare orb, that has called each one of us into being.

“There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever,” Sacks wrote in his inspiring valedictory. “When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.”

Fred Rogers put it this way.

“Your place in this life is unique, absolutely unique. Do you know how special you really are?”

These would be nice things to remember on the days when we think we suck.

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