#2 Remembering how lucky we are to be here right now

Over dinner one night my dad started telling me about his first day in Canada.

It was 1968 and he was twenty-three, arriving on a plane with eight dollars in his pocket to start a new life by himself in a country he had never visited.

“A community group had a welcome dinner for new immigrants,” he started excitedly “And they had a big table of food!”

I was unimpressed.

“A table of food,” I agreed flatly while staring straight ahead and flipping past baseball highlights on TV.

“A table of food,” he continued. “Basically Neil, all the presentation of the picnic food on the table, I didn’t recognize. There were two or three kinds of salad. Potato salad, macaroni salad, maybe coleslaw. Probably four different kinds of sandwiches, ham sandwich, turkey sandwich, chicken sandwich, roast beef sandwich. Then there were the main courses they called it, you know, tuna casserole? Then the desserts was pies. Which I never seen pies before.”

I put down the remote and glanced at him cock-eyed. Behind the thick, boxy glasses, I could see his eyes darting wildly.

“How did you know what everything was?”

“My brother was there, so I will ask him and he told me whatever it is. The trays of cold cuts was different, instead of regular chicken they have sliced them, sometimes they have them rolled with the toothpick in them. I had never seen cold cuts before, I seen chicken in chicken form, but not rolled up. Same for cheese… some were in slices, some of them in squares.”

“What did you eat?” I asked.

“I ate everything, that’s the only way to get to know! That’s how you get exposed when you don’t know, just try different things. I can’t believe how many things you can get here!”

My dad would take me to the grocery store and marvel at the signs beside every fruit. He was fascinated that pineapples came from Costa Rica and kiwis were shipped from New Zealand. Sometimes he came home and opened an atlas to find out where the countries were. “Somebody brought dates from Morocco and dropped them five minutes from the home.”

He’d just smile and shake his head.

But if I really stop to think about it, a lot had to happen before we could be here right now. A lot had to happen before we could buy bananas from Ecuador and eat turkey cold cuts, before we could scroll through blogs about warm underwear and cool pillows, before we learned to read anything at all, before we grew tall, before we could talk, before we could walk, before we were even born…

So let’s stop for a second and pull back. Let’s pull way, way, way, way back.

Okay.

You used to be a sperm.

Now don’t get self conscious. We all used to be sperm. Check out the period at the end of this sentence. That tiny little dot is around 600 microns wide. When you were a sperm you were about 40 microns wide. And you were so cute back then too with your little tail wagging all over the place and your love of swimming. Boy could you swim. In fact if you hadn’t outswum your siblings, you might be a slightly different version of yourself right now. Maybe you’d have a higher-pitched laugh, hairier arms, or stand two inches shorter.

You had a great life as a sperm but always felt incomplete. The truth is you weren’t whole until you met an egg. And then you two began a nine month project to make a cool new version of you. It took a while but you grew arms and legs and eyeballs and lungs. You grew nerves and nails and eardrums and tongues.

For a sperm to meet an egg it means your mom met your dad. But it’s not just them. Think about how many people had to meet, fall in love, and make love for you to be here. Here’s the answer: A lot. Like a lot a lot.

Before they had you, none of your ancestors drowned in a pond, got strangled by a python, or skied into a tree. None of your ancestors choked on a peach pit, were trampled by buffalo, or got their tie stuck in an assembly line.

None of your ancestors was a virgin.

You are the most modern, brightest spark of years and years and years of survivors who all had to meet each other in order to eventually make you.

Your nineteenth century Grandma met your nineteenth century Grandpa down at the candle-making shoppe. She liked his muttonchops and he thought she looked cute churning butter.

Your Middle Ages Grandpa met your Middle Ages Grandma while they both poured hot oil from the castle turrets on pillaging vikings. She liked his grunts and he thought the flowers in her hair made her heaving bosoms jump out.

Your Ice Age Grandpa crossing the Bering Bridge in a woolly mammoth fur met your Ice Age Grandma dragging a club in the opposite direction. He liked her saber-tooth necklace and she dug his unibrow.

Your ancient rainforest Grandpa was picking berries naked in the bush while your ancient rainforest Grandma was spearing dodos for dinner. She liked his jungle funk and he liked her cave drawings. If it wasn’t for the picnic they had afterwards, maybe you wouldn’t be here.

You’re pretty lucky all those people met, fell in love, made love, had babies, and raised them into other people who did it all over again. This happened over and over and over again for you to be here. Look around the plane, coffee shop, or park right now. Look at your husband snoring in bed, your girlfriend watching TV, or your sister playing in the backyard. You are surrounded by lucky people. They are all the result of long lines of survivors.

So you’re a survivor, too. You’re the latest and greatest. You’re the top of the line. You’re the very best nature has to offer.

But a lot had to happen before all your strong, fiery ancestors met each other and fell in love over and over again for hundreds of thousands of years …

So let’s stop for a second and pull back again. Let’s pull way, way, way, way back.

Okay.

Let’s go on a field trip. Put your shoes on because we’re heading outside.

Take a bowling ball and drop it on the edge of your driveway. That’s our Sun. Yeah, the ball is only eight inches across and the actual Sun is eight hundred thousand miles across but that’s our scale for this little brainwave. Okay, now walk down your street ten big paces and drop a grain of salt on your neighbor’s lawn. That’s Mercury. Take nine more paces down the street and drop a peppercorn for Venus. And then take another seven paces, so you’re now two or three houses down the block, and toss down another peppercorn.

You got it.

That peppercorn is Earth.

Here we are, basking in the blazing sun, twenty-six big steps away from the bowling ball. Our giant planet is just a tiny speck in the middle of nowhere but here’s the crazy part: It gets a whole lot bigger.

If you keep walking, Mars is only couple more houses away, but Jupiter ends up ninety-five big paces down the street, out of the neighborhood, and halfway to the corner store. By now a dog is probably slobbering in the bowling ball finger holes and kids are flying by you on their bikes, slurping drippy popsicles, and wondering what’s up with this nut tossing crumbs on the sidewalk, acting out some demented suburban version of Hansel and Gretel.

If you want to finish up our solar system, you’re going to have to start taking two- and three-hundred paces for the remaining planets, eventually dropping a grain of salt for Pluto half a mile away from the bowling ball. You can’t see the bowling ball with binoculars and it’s getting cold out for your long walk home.

But here’s the crazier part: That’s just our solar system. That’s just our bunch of rocks flying around our big bright bowling ball star.

Turns out our big bright star and all its salt and peppercorns are racing around a cosmic race track with two hundred billion other big bright bowling ball stars. You’d have to cover the entire Earth with bowling balls eight thousand times to represent the number of stars in our race track. Did we mention this race track has a name? Yup, it’s called the Milky Way galaxy, presumably because the scientists who first noticed it were all eating delicious Milky Way candy bars late that Friday night down at the telescopes.

So basically our bowling ball, salt, and peppercorns are flying in the fast lane around a ridiculously giant race track galaxy called the Milky Way with billions and billions of other bowling balls, salt grains, and peppercorns, too.

But are you ready for the craziest part: That’s just our galaxy. Guess how many giant racetrack galaxies are in all of outer space? Oh, not many. Just more than we can possibly count. Honestly, nobody knows how many galaxies are out there in the big blackness. All we know is that every few years somebody stares out a little further and finds millions more of them just shining way out in the void. We don’t know how deep it goes because our rocketships don’t blast off that far and our thickest, fattest telescopes can’t see that far.

Now, all this space talk might make us feel small and insignificant, but here’s the thing, here’s the big thing, here’s the biggest thing of all: Of the millions of places we’ve ever seen it appears as though Earth is the only place that can support life. The only place! Oh sure, there could be other life-giving planets we haven’t seen yet, but the point is that Earth could easily have been a clump of sulphur gas, be lying in darkness forever, or have a winter that dips a couple hundred degrees and lasts twenty years like Uranus.

On this planet Earth, the only one in the giant dark blackness where anything can live, we ended up being humans.

Congratulations, us!

We are the only species on the only life-giving rock capable of love and magic, architecture and agriculture, jewelry and democracy, airplanes and highway lanes. We’re the only ones with interior design and horoscope signs, fashion magazines and house party scenes, horror flicks with monsters, guitar jams at concerts. We got books, buffets and radio waves, wedding brides and roller coaster rides, clean sheets and good movie seats, bakery air and rain hair, bubble wrap and illegal naps.

We got all that. But people, listen up.

We only get a hundred years to enjoy it.

I’m sorry but it’s true.

Every single person you know will be dead in a hundred years — the foreman at your plant, the cashiers at your grocery store, every teacher you’ve ever had, anyone you’ve ever woken up beside, all the kids on your street, every baby you’ve ever held, every bride who’s walked down the aisle, every telemarketer who’s called you at dinner, every politician in every country, every actor in every movie, everyone who’s cut you off on the highway, everyone in the room you’re sitting in right now, everyone you love, and you.

Life is so great that we only get a tiny moment to enjoy everything we see. And that moment is right now. And that moment is counting down. And that moment is always, always fleeting.

You will never be as young as you are right now.

So whether you’re enjoying your first toothpicked turkey cold cuts and marveling at apples from South Africa, dreaming of strange and distant relatives from thousands of years ago, or staring into the blackness of deep, deep space, just remember how lucky we all are to be here right now.

If you feel that sense of wonder and beauty in all the tiny joys in life then you’re part of an international band of old souls and optimists, smiling on sidewalks, dancing at weddings, and flipping to the other side of the pillow. Let’s all high five and keep thinking wild thoughts, dreaming big dreams, and laughing loud laughs.

Thank you so much for reading this blog.

And thank you for being

AWESOME!

Live in Toronto? Join me tonight for A Celebration of Awesome! We have lots of surprises planned…

Photos from: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here

225 thoughts on “#2 Remembering how lucky we are to be here right now

  1. What a beautiful post and so much truth in it! It’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day things and this blogs really helps in keeping things in perspective. It’s important to remember how lucky and awesome every single person is. =D I think overall, this blog has helped train my mind into pausing throughout the day to identify and appreciate the small things =).

    I’m sad tomorrow’s post will be the last but as some have said, we carry it on and there are always old postings to look through and the books. I only just bought the books yesterday! I’m excited to get them, in time for life after graduation when I will likely need them!

  2. First time I’ve ever been moved to post… thank you so much for sharing your awesome life with us for the last few years! This brought tears to my eyes, and I’m certain there will be more tomorrow.

  3. BHB! BHB! BHB!!!!!!!

    Aww one more day? I’m crying! Literally! My life is just over!!! I can’t let this blog diiiiieeee!

  4. (Not sure how I posted this on #11, but I did, so it’s here again with the right post…)

    Hi Neil,

    You’ve brought me joy every day for 1000 days. You’ve been with me through amazing things and awful things. You helped me get through a very difficult time in my life, and you helped me see that abandoning a lifelong dream was not a loss, but an opportunity to find a new, bigger, better dream. You only have to look at the comments on your blog and your book sales to know that this is true for a LOT of people.

    I’ve wondered for a long time what would happen when you got to #1. Last week when I realized this blog would end I knew I’d cry after #1. I didn’t expect to cry after #2 — tomorrow’s going to be rough.

    My very best wishes for whatever new, bigger, better dream you are chasing next. Without doubt, it will be awesome.
    -Julie

  5. A most moving entry. I cried through my laughter and laughed through my tears. Thank you for all you wrote.

  6. I read this post and recognised so much from your TED talk. You really have been planning these last few for a long time. I have my guesses for #1 and am so excited to find out what it is. Thanks so much Neil.

  7. Thanks Neil — for reminding us every day — just how wonderful, beautiful and downright AWESOME this little blue planet (peppercorn) hurtling along through space truly is!

    Keep smiling and being awesome,

    Blessings from another old soul optimist who smiles on sidewalks, stops to smell the flowers, whistles while she works, dances at weddings, and flips to the other side of the pillow. Like you, and the many, many, MANY others like us, I’ll keep thinking wild — bodacious even — thoughts, dreaming big dreams and laughing out loud.

  8. We’re almost there. I haven’t been here for the full 1000, more like since 950 or the like, but it has been a great ride. Thankyou Neil, for bringing us all something bright and wonderful every weekday.

  9. Thank you so much for this AWESOME! blog. It has truly been the highlight of my day ever since I discovered it. I wish I had found it earlier.
    Thanks, Neil for being AWESOME!!!!!

  10. WOW… These past couple of mornings I’ve felt like such a kid (in an AWESOME way!) smiling in excited anticipation of seeing the day’s awesome post! And I feel like a kid now, at the edge of my seat, wondering what #1 will be! Haven’t been here long, but definitely long enough to appreciate it, and, you, Neil! You are such an inspiration! I will certainly miss the “anticipation” each morning… But I feel LUCKY I got to experience it til the end!!!!

  11. I’ve come to this site really late, only within the last 8 months or so, and I’ve only commented maybe 5 or so times, but when I found this place, I had to go back and read all of the prior awesomeness. I have to say that this bit of awesomeness really got me, to my core.
    Since we’re down to #2, I have to at least chime in again. And I have to say it again, thank you so much Neil.
    I’d also like to say thank you to all of the fans and commenters here. Reading all of your friendships develop, reading all of your stories and anecdotes has also been awesome and has helped brighten each of my days.

  12. Awesome! One objection though. My Middle Ages grandparents WERE vikings. Big day tomorrow. Good luck!

  13. Just getting so close to the end makes me all mopey and miserable and on the edge of a cliff.

    There’s this huge soaring feeling as the sun goes down-it dazzles you with beauty and glorious sunbeams and extravagant colours and warmth. And then it’s gone.

    It leaves only faint streaks of a tired flush and more murky darkness creeps in. It’s melancholy. I don’t mind it half as much when it’s completely dark and the stars come out, but that moment always is horribly aggravating.

  14. Hey everyone,
    I don’t think I’ve ever commented on a post before, but I figured I should on the last ones. I’ve been reading these posts for about 2 years now, and they have made my day a little brighter every day. 1000 Awesome Things have been helping me get through dark times, and I’m so glad I found this blog!! I’ll certainly miss these AWESOME posts (and reading comments).
    :)
    Meg

  15. The first time I read one of these entries was on my 17th birthday (wait, I’m not quite 18 yet, HOW HAS IT ONLY BEEN A YEAR SINCE I FOUND THIS BLOG!!!???) I got the Book of Awesome in the morning of my birthday, from my friend/brother’s girlfriend. She told me she had a copy and she read it whenever she felt sad and it made her feel better. She also knew how much I loved books. From that moment on I started reading it. In every spare moment of my day, I was reading the book. I carried it everywhere with me that day. I was reading it when a car pulled out in front of us, and my friend slammed on the breaks (everyone was, thankfully, ok) I had it with me when I helped comfort my friend when she had to call her parents and tell them about the car. And at the end of the day, on the ride home, I was reading the final entry by moonlight. This entry. It made me cry, and it made me think. What if my parents never met? What if my grandparents didn’t meet? What if my friend hadn’t hit the breaks in time? So many little things have created all the moments that have lead up to this one. Even in the case of my brother. He first met his girlfriend when they were in grade 9. But they parted ways when she changed schools. Three years later, my brother was on an instant messaging network he almost never used. Turns out, so was she. They started talking again, and they went to prom together, and started dating (and still are). What if they weren’t online at the same time? Then they wouldn’t have started dating, and I wouldn’t have met her and become friends with her, and I wouldn’t have gotten the Book of Awesome for my 17th birthday. Then I wouldn’t have looked at the cover one day, and decided to check out this blog. Then I wouldn’t be sitting here, writting this comment. So many “what ifs.” But I am here writting this comment, and I’m glad. Both the book and this blog has made my life more awesome, and I’m lucky for that. Thank you Neil. You are AWESOME!

  16. As much as I love and follow this blog, I’ve never actually left a comment on an Awesome Thing, but I figured #2 meant it was time — reading this actually brought tears to my eyes. There are far more than 1000 Awesome Things in this world, and this blog is certainly one of them.

    Neil, consider this comment a hug from a stranger, a thanks for all the smiles and laughs, a hope for many more Awesome Things to come.

    Honestly, and from the bottom of my heart, Neil, thank you. You are Awesome.

  17. Thanks Neil. It’s been fun, it’s been real, it’s been entertaining, inspiring and heartwarming. I will miss these posts. I wish you well.

  18. This is the greatest entry I’ve seen on this blog. All the awesome things have come to this: the fact that we can enjoy them.
    Good Luck, Neil.

  19. Sorry I’m late. :) My surgery is next week (I never would have allowed them to schedule it to interfere with #1! LOL); however, I did spend yesterday and today in hospital. My bro-in-law had emergency open-heart surgery, so I was with my sissy at the hospital. After the emotional day yesterday, I was too tired to stay up for last night’s post. He did come thru with flying colors, thankfully! Which is why I think, despite all of the hospital stuff of late, I am lucky to be here now! Just 100 years ago my bro-in-law probably wouldn’t have made it through ’til today; 100 years ago there would have been no treatment for my hip. How lucky to be alive when there are so many fantastic medical advances that make our lives not only longer, but more comfortable! I, too, remember this post from the book. Loved it then, love it now!
    Wow, 160 comments…woohooo!

  20. Sitting here with a spoon and a small jar of newly purchased Nutella. It looks chocolatey, but I’m feeling very unsure…hazelnuts??? Hmmmm, well this evening’s a night for throwing caution to the wind!

  21. I didn’t have time to read this all yesterday!!! But I’m commenting now. I LOVED the funny parts from Sperm onwards :P And ‘jungle funk’ is a pretty cool term. I cracked up in those parts. Then all of a sudden it got so so so so AWESOME even for the Awesome blog, realising just how big everything is around us. We are all so special. We are all so lucky. I agree person-that-mentioned-this-up-there: This post is what the Awesome movement is all about :’)
    Also, I feel I should mention that today at the beach at Rottnest Island I took a photo of a man and his two little girls facing the horizon in the water, holding hands, then I sketched it and gave it to them :D They were delighted, and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Look what an awesome deed can do for more than the recipient!

  22. Wow – wow – wow Thanks for being a part of my 100 years here! My grandfather came here from Italy with twelve dollars in his pocket and ended up in Western Pennsylvania where I met my husband and now have 2 kids in Baltimore and so it keeps going on.

  23. I have followed this blog for years, and have gained so much from all that you have shared in it, Neil. #2 puts into words a feeling I often have in the quiet moments of life, when I think about our hearts beating or who stood where I am standing 100, 1000, or 10,000 years ago.

    I read this entry aloud to my husband in a retaurant last night. I could bearly get through the end as I welled up with tears. You captured my thoughts and the heart of what it is to be here now. Perhaps most stirringly, you highlighted the awesomeness of realizing it.

    Thank you.

  24. Neil,
    Endless thanks to you. I caught you last night on the news and it felt like I was seeing an old friend. I would have been there in person if I lived in Toronto.
    My daughter and I have already begun our AWESOME morning ritual, wholly inspired by you. Thank you for the ongoing joy that your perspective has brought and for reminding us that we are surrounded by — and are — awesome. Wishing you an infitinite number of awesome moments to come.

  25. I have been following this blog for years and loving the little morsel of awesome things that arrives in my mailbox or on my screen everyday. I have to say this second last one is one of my absolute favorites – and there are many of course! Congratulations Neil – you followed your dream and you went through your obstacles and you came out of it all more awesome than ever. I hope you take a few minutes to acknowledge your own awesomeness for sharing all of this with the world. I will definitely miss my daily awesome thing, but hopefully after 1000 of them I will make up some of my own!

    Sad to see you go, happy to have shared in the experience! Here’s to new dreams!

  26. I love the funny bodily function posts, and the feel warm inside posts… but this one… I think is my FAVOURITE. as I briefly told you at the book-signing, it so reminds me of my dad, when he came, with only $600 in his pocket in the 70s. He came to Montreal, and they had a special program for new immigrants to learn French in a nearby city.

    The governmenet was kind enough (back then) to give a living allowance while you learn the French language. My mom and dad spent their allowance on pots and pans, so that they could cook “real” food! or food they were used. They went back to the pincipal for an advance on their next allowance! Who sat them them down and explained how things work!

    My dad too, till this day, marvels that you can find whatever fruit you desire here all year round. Back home, fruits and vegetable were seasonal.

    But overall, time has evolved us… The man who only ate meat in the form of “meat”.. came to love Montreal smoked-meat more then anyone else I know! Your post made me teary-eyed in the most AWESOME way possible.

    cheers!

  27. This is the very best “awesome” post out of all 999 awesome posts. Read it with delight and regret — that there won’t be 1000 more.

  28. Reblogged this on Charlie Gunningham .com and commented:
    About a year ago, I saw a TED Talk with a guy talking about his blog, 1000 Awesome things; it won prizes at best blog, and started with a delightful idea – no matter how hard life can seem at times, there have got to be 1000 things that are awesome. So he counted them down from 1000 to number 1. This blog is his #2, which is a deep recognition of who we are, wher are come from and an appeal to make the most of it. Click to see the #1 and then maybe flick through some of the others in the list. He’s even written them up in a few books, which have become best sellers, and people get together to have 1000 awesome clubs and readings. AWESOME,

  29. “Before they had you, none of your ancestors drowned in a pond, got strangled by a python, or skied into a tree. None of your ancestors choked on a peach pit, were trampled by buffalo, or got their tie stuck in an assembly line.”

    yay for people not dying!

  30. Neil, I must tell you while I have often enjoyed this blog, this particular posting was one of the best things I’ve ever read in my life. Your perspective is both unique and spot-on. Congratulations for completing your 1000 awesome things, and thank you for sharing your work with us.

    1. Yeah I agree rock on any way thank you for lighting up my day when I am sad you are the best author ever known to live any one with me?

  31. Hey my teacher read us your book of awesome and we all loved it I bought your book of even more awesome and right now my friend is on your website laughing at #950 any way thanks for all of the awesome things you have put down our class is writing our own book of awesome have you ever tried imitating chef ramzy? Bye

  32. The post sure changed my point of view about life. We all tend to see only what’s near and painful but if we broaden our view, like what you did, we will see the magnificence of this existence..Just feeling a bit sorry that today, more people are shackled by their need to survive that we all forget to really live…

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