Want to know how I think? How I exist?
I was standing on the Old Drake Hill Flower Bridge in Simsbury, CT with my wife and children. It was a spectacular fall day. Blue skies. Warm temperatures. Laughing children.
I look over the bridge and spot this leaf, floating down the river.
Here is what I think:
That leaf didn't exist eight months ago. A maple tree that has probably been alive and growing for decades took sunlight and carbon dioxide and gave birth to this green bit of wonder.
It's a miracle of sorts.
No, it truly is a miracle.
Look at it. Something that didn't exist now exists in color and shape and form. Born from an infinite number of random acts of weather and geology over the course of millions of years, this small, green bit of life clung by stem to branch, where it fluttered in the breeze, capturing sunlight to help nourish the tree that forged its existence.
But now autumn has arrived. The tree that once gave birth to this miracle has now shed it. Released it to the world. The leaf fell, twisting and turning in its descent, finding its way on wind and current to this river, where it will journey far away from its birthplace. Somewhere downriver, it will get hung up on a fallen tree or island or sandbar, where it come to rest, and before long, deteriorate, and decay. In a month or two or three, this leaf will be no more. What once existed in color and shape and form will no longer be. It's atoms will be returned to the earth, separated forever. What was once joined in miraculous combination will be torn asunder, forever.
This miracle - this honest-to-goodness miracle - will be gone.
Had I not been standing on this bridge at this very moment, looking in this particular direction, this leaf would have never been seen at all. This green miracle would have floated by utterly unknown to the world. It is only through good fortune that this miracle was witnessed by anyone at all.
But even my acknowledgement of this miracle - my memory of its passing - will eventually come to an end.
One day, decades from now, when the miracle that is me also ceases to exist, this tiny leaf will be unknown to the world once again. When the miraculous combination of my own atoms is no more, so too will any memory of this leaf.
The only evidence of its existence lives inside of me. I alone possess the knowledge of this miracle in my heart. I alone keep it alive. But when my heart stops beating and I no longer draw breath, this tiny, green miracle will be lost for all of eternity.
It will be like it had never existed at all.
It will take longer for me to be forgotten. The echo of my existence will reverberate for many years after I cease to exist in color and shape and form, but one day, I will be lost. Like this tiny, green miracle floating by in a shallow river, I will fade into obscurity.
Our fates will be one and the same: unknown and forgotten for eternity. Like we had never existed at all.
This is what I think when I see a leaf floating down a river on a perfect autumn afternoon.
While my children laugh in the sunshine, these are my thoughts.
It's not easy. It makes for a sharp, brilliant, and visceral life, but it's not easy.