Winners and losers

“You win a while, and then it’s done, your little winning streak.”
– Leonard Cohen

You may think you are a loser: full of self-criticism, disliking your looks and your body, eating badly, drinking and smoking, not sleeping enough, ignoring your kids, slacking off at work, treating friends like enemies, mouthing off at your wife, wearing dirty clothes, wasting money on lottery tickets, picking your nose in public, flipping-off other drivers, leaving no tips, speeding on side streets, tossing litter, and so on and so forth. All this miserable behavior is appropriate to losers, but the basic fact remains: you are a winner.

We’re all winners; everyone alive has come out on top, beaten odds so enormous they are beyond calculation. For billions of years one life after another led up to you – amoebas, microscopic worms, trilobites, dinosaurs, buzzing insects, crawling slugs, marsupials, rodents, primates, proto-hominids and homo sapiens. All these past lives, and many more forever uncountable and unknown, form an unbroken chain with you at the end. At any point, at any time in any place, this continuity could have been broken, and if broken, you would not exist. If that does not qualify you as a winner, dear one, what possibly could?

Alright, you say, that’s true, but so what? Why should it matter if each of us who are alive represent the ultimate culmination of billions of years of life? We did not ask to be here, so what’s the big deal, and besides, if we want to think that life is crap, it’s our choice, right? Well, this is true; think what you like. But thinking does not change the facts, dear one, and the fact is that being alive is a near miracle.

How we think of ourselves is our choice (and that ability an evolutionary joke, perhaps?), and carefully examining the fabric of the lives we’ve woven can be sobering indeed. We all make mistakes, poor choices, and bad decisions; this is how we learn. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them, right? And if we do learn, the fabric changes along with our behavior.

Some believe evolutionary change is fueled by nothing more than a continuum of non-lethal mistakes. Our ancestors, including those microscopic round worms in our family lineage, took right turns instead of left and survived long enough to pass on genetic and epigenetic information about survival. Others may say we’re here by divine grace, that this worm or that was blessed for survival over others. Still more might say survival of those that came before us was predetermined, by fate or karma. Ah well, such arguments are not winnable; we are here now and it’s what we do with this time that matters.

Of all creatures, only people feel like losers. No bird feels like a loser, nor a salamander or for that matter even a worm. Like all living things, birds, salamanders and worms are natural born winners. People are natural born winners too, but we’ve been told we’re losers for so often that many actually believe it. Sure, life is short and can be tough, but hey, congratulations, you should be celebrating! You made the cut and beat the odds, and every day’s another chance to start fresh again.

And this, dear one, is why birds sing at dawn.

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