Bud Herron: Existence takes the cake

I have existed on Earth since May 17, 1945.

I am sure some people would argue I have existed since some inexact, steamy afternoon in August 1944 when my parents decided to take a nap.

I will leave that emotionally laden discussion to biologists, obstetricians, theologians, philosophers, and all of those on multiple sides of the Roe v. Wade barricades. All I know is my mother always made me a birthday cake on May 17 — chocolate with chocolate icing.

I really never have had deep thoughts about when my existence began. But, I have occasionally been sucked down intellectual rabbit holes by the mystery around how I happened to exist at all. The odds on me never being me are astronomically staggering.

A single variation in the decisions and activities of my ancestors — going back perhaps 2 million years — would have altered the genetic chain-reaction that made me possible. (I suppose this is why Mom often looked at me, shook her head and said “You are impossible.”)

Yet, here I am — a fact confirmed by everyone I know, except a few adherents to some far out theories in quantum mechanics theoretical physics.

If my father had stepped on my mother’s toes while dancing with her on their first date at Heflin’s dance hall near Edinburgh in 1935, and she had refused another date, I would not exist; neither would my two children and my granddaughter.

The same would be true if the minie ball bullet that hit my great grandfather in the head at the Battle of Chickamauga on Sept. 19, 1863 hadn’t stopped a “dime’s thickness” from his brain.

My path to existence is littered with “game over” popups caused by diseases, accidents, fatal heroism, deadly cowardice, floods, hurricanes, fires, famines, pandemics, random biological urges, egotism, pride, prejudice, misunderstandings, poverty, wealth, gambling and saber-toothed tigers crouched in the bushes (to name a few).

In other words, not just my existence, but yours as well, seems to be a gigantic long shot.

Some people find truth, faith and peace in the concept that I am wrong — that each of us exists as a result of a grand, preordained divine plan; that a higher power prevented Dad from stepping on Mom’s foot; that a heavenly puppet master held back the speed of the Confederate minie ball just enough to allow me to be born 82 years later; that divine intervention saved a long-forgotten contributor to my genetic self from bubonic plague in 1350.

This concept has been hotly debated by Christian churches for centuries — many adding the twist of belief in “free will” to modify predestination. How this all fits together, church to church, is a topic for someone more educated in the history of theology than me.

All I know is I agree with the famous assessment of Rene Descartes, the 17th century French philosopher who settled the question in his own mind by deciding “I think, therefore I am.”

So, I think I will have a piece of birthday cake — chocolate with chocolate icing — and try to figure out how to best use the remainder of this long-shot chance I have at living.

I at least owe some effort in that direction to all those never-were, would-have-been gene-carriers who never became me.

Bud Herron is a retired editor and newspaper publisher who lives in Columbus. Contact him at [email protected].