To attain any kind of life in this universe of ours appears to be quite an achievement. As humans we are doubly lucky, of course: We enjoy not only the privilege of existence but also the singular ability to appreciate it and even, in a multitude of ways, to make it better. It is a talent we have only barely begun to grasp.
Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything
My BFF has always been rather amused by what I describe as my “relationship with the universe”. And she’s right to be. She knows that religion is not an affliction that I suffer from, and she probably thinks that it sounds like quasi-religious fervour when I say things like, “I’m so grateful to the universe for X” or “The universe is not there to fuck you up.” This kind of talk sat far more comfortably in my Catholic childhood than in my rather more rational adulthood (well, maybe not the “fuck” bit), but for some reason I can’t seem to shake the words “the universe” out of my lexicon.
In theory, I totally agree with Richard Dawkins when he says that, “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.” I agree that the universe is utterly indifferent to my happiness and well-being, but it’s actually that that makes me feel so unbelievably fortunate. Since there’s no all-powerful being forever on my side, how is it that I get to inhabit such an incredibly beautiful world and live so happy an existence?
When I refer to “the universe”, I think it’s just because I need words with which to express my gratitude. And it seems to work for me. Unlike some believers in a malignant and vengeful God, I don’t blame anyone when things fail to go my way. But it does make me feel better to be thankful when I experience the kindness of friends or strangers, or when something good comes my way, or when I see something beautiful. And those things happen many, many times every day.
This desire to express gratitude is part of the reason why I’m enjoying getting into photography. Every picture that I take is an attempt to express my gratitude for the fact that I was there in the moment when a particular thing happened, or that I was able to visit a particular place or spend time with particular people. I need to get better at taking pictures so that I can more accurately document some of the incredible moments that I’m privileged to witness. (A few early attempts can be found on my Flickr page here if you’re interested in taking a look. I promise that I will get better.)
Other things that I always thank the universe for are the beautiful opportunities that spring up in the course of an ordinary life. Like the opportunity to speak regularly on Skype with a father who’s quite recently embraced the joys of technology. Or the chance to have beautiful times with friends and family who visit my home, or invite me to visit them in theirs. Or the ability to speak frequently with much loved family members who live far, far away. Or the opportunity to join an extraordinary group of women to perform a wonderful play in a theatre in Geneva.
I don’t know how else to express it.
And so I say thanks to the universe.