Around 13.7 billion years ago there was a bang. Gravity and all other forces that regulate physics were created almost instantly. Within a minute, the universe was a million billion miles across and expanding, swiftly and evenly in all directions, creating space as it went. A couple of minutes after that, the explosion had given rise to 98% of all matter that will ever exist.
Jump nine billion years ahead. Some gas and dust about 15 billion miles across began to assemble. Almost all of it went to make the sun, but out of what was left, two infinitesimal particles collided, then with others, then with still more, growing bigger and bigger until, 200 million years later, the Earth was formed, finally weighing in at around six billion trillion metric tons.
A hundred million years after that, an object crashed into Earth, knocking enough material out to form the moon, anchoring the planet enough to make it habitable. The magma core released gasses to provide us an atmosphere and magnetic field that shield us from cosmic radiation and a sun that, if it were 5 percent closer would burn us up or 15 percent farther away would freeze us.
Simple, single-celled organisms arose, then sea plants, jellyfish, arthropods. Then plants appeared on land, then land creatures, forests, insects, dinosaurs. Their extinction gave way to the rise of mammals and then finally humans. Continents slammed into one another, mountains rose and fell and rose again, ice conquered then withdrew.
The genomic blueprint of life exploded into myriad forms as men coupled with plant-gathering women to guarantee food while striving for the luxury of meat that our new, big brains needed. And within just 80 generations, on almost every continent, diverse humans came together to form villages, produce similar alphabets, languages, customs, and types of worship. Villages became towns, towns became cities, cities needed governments, governments became empires, empires rose, went to war, exploited their people, abused their resources, debased their tax system, corrupted their politicians, fell, and were replaced, until we evolved into the nearly 7 billion people and 300 million tons of biomass that we represent today.
Each and every one of my ancestors on both sides — the duodecillion (or more?) lives on which mine is dependent — cared for their relatives, sought status, sought sex, hoped to impress peers, to gain allies, to be seen as good, to form and nurture alliances, and to neutralize rivals. They felt love, lust, compassion, reverence, ambition, anger, fear, guilt, obligation and shame. They avoided endemics, epidemics, comets, hurricanes, volcanoes, global warming, cooling, drowning, starving or being eaten, all the while managing to remain appealing enough to find a mate and dispatch enough DNA to the right person at the right moment to result finally, miraculously, in me.
And what am I doing? Sitting at a computer. Eating a cheese sandwich. Going back and forth from Facebook to sports news to writing this.
We are the one creature that is capable not only of appreciating existence, but possibly, of making it better. And just as our brains have adapted to be the caretakers of our bodies, the Earth developed a caretaker of its own. And that's us.
Look at your body. You have 206 bones, 640 muscles, 23 pairs of chromosomes. Look at your hand. The genes in each of the cells therein are direct descendants of the first replicator molecules, survivors of the earliest and most vicious struggles of life. Look at your lungs. You get 600 million breaths. Look at your heart. It beats 72 times per minute. It pumps 657,000 gallons of oxygenated blood each year to feed all of your body's biological functions. It weighs only 10 ounces, but it will beat more than two and a half billion times before it stops. Look at the clock. The average life is 650,000 hours.
At some point, all those atoms which have worked together for the commanding purpose of making us who we are will shut us down, break up into bits, and go off and become other things. So, get up now. Go. Do.