Getting here wasn’t easy
At a Humanist wedding recently, the bride’s mother made an unusual speech. It’s reproduced with her permission, but the names have been changed to preserve anonymity.
The following piece is offered, with apologies to Bill Bryson, whose book ‘A Short History of Everything’ put me firmly in my place.
Welcome – and congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know, in fact it was tougher than you perhaps realise. This is a very special group of people come together to celebrate Susan and John’s Wedding and each of you is more special than you may think.
For instance – for any of us to be here now, trillions of atoms had to assemble in a curiously obliging manner – to create you – just this once. For the years they are together, they will obligingly co-operate to keep you intact and able to experience the agreeable, but hugely under-appreciated state known as existence.
Why atoms do this is a bit of a puzzle. It is not a gratifying experience at an atomic level – for all their devoted attention atoms don’t care about you or even know you are there – or that they are there. They are mindless particles – not even alive. If you were to pick yourself apart with tweezers you would end up with a pile of fine atomic dust – all of which had once been you and which, somehow, for the period of your existence combine with a single impulse – to keep you as you.
But rejoice that this has happened at all. Generally, looking at the whole universe, this is a rare occurrence. Atoms do not usually flock together congenially to form living things. The atoms on Earth are the same as anywhere else in the universe – carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen a dash of calcium, a little sulphur –and a few other elements is all that is needed to make up you– the only thing that is special about the atoms that make you – is that they make you – this is the miracle of life.
Survival is a tricky business, too. Of all the species that have ever existed, 99%, are estimated to be extinct; any one species tends to last about 4 million years; however life always carries on; at some stage in your past you have floated in the sea, had fins, a jaunty sail, a forked tongue, a tail, fur, lived underground and then up in trees; the tiniest slip and you might not have been you at all. You have been on the winning team for millions of years. You have miraculously clung to a favoured evolutionary line in your personal ancestry. Since life began, every one of your ancestors has been attractive enough to find a mate, and healthy enough to reproduce; none of your ancestors have been squashed, eaten; drowned, starved, or fatally wounded before finding the right partner and passing on that tiny charge of life that ended up being you.
However, atoms are fickle; a long human lifetime amounts to 650,000 hours and for some reason, at the end of this time, they silently disassemble, close you down and go off to be something else; once again joining the great river of life which flows down the millennia on Earth. This is something so very special to be part of.
This is all by way of saying how wonderful it is to be here with you all and to be part of the continuing life of Susan and John.