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You Never Consented to Being Born, But Here You Are. What Now?

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It took a light-hearted meme to stoke my thoughts

There’s this meme that keeps popping randomly in my head and although I find it funny, I also recognise the fact that it speaks more truth than it should. About existence. Loosely paraphrased, the meme translates to something like ‘two people had sex in the nineties and now I have bills to pay…’

My apologies if you’re not a nineties baby. The meme is open to slight adjustments. I’m afraid this simple statement triggered a whole perspective I was involuntarily blind to, prompting me to break it into small, digestible parts, lest it chokes the life out of me.

The one thing I’m sure we all have in common is, none of us consented to our being here. No one was ever approached and asked for permission to exist. We just woke up one day and found ourselves here, and with time, realised none of us is getting out alive. I believe this to be the mother of all mysteries; deep and condescending, that we can answer (vaguely) the question of how we came about, but remain painfully clueless when it comes to why we came about.

We know how we came about, but can be clueless as to why we came about

If we were to assess this question through evolutionary lenses, we might as well conclude that reproduction and propagating our own species is the very purpose of our waking up in the morning, a million times over, to the same broken reality we’re forced to live in.

It doesn’t have to be as pessimistic as I just made it sound, but hear me out. In 200 years, most of what you entail will be obsolete. Your name, and your memories. You’d be lucky if your offspring cared enough about their family history to know anything about you, but even then, it would be like trying to capture the wind in a bottle. But your genes would still be coursing through their veins. They don’t have to remember your name to carry bits of you in them. Just like you carried your ancestors and didn’t give it a second thought. So technically, it doesn’t really matter what else you do when you’re around, if you reproduce, you’ve basically served your purpose as natural selection intended.

There’s much more to human beings than filling the earth

The thing is, there’s much more to human beings than filling the earth. Heck, you can have 20 of those rascals run around in your compound and still feel hollow. We also happen to be the only species that are aware of the future. A few animals store up food for the future, yes, but that’s more of an instinctual reaction than a conscious decision. No squirrel hides its nuts thinking of how full and satisfied it’ll be tomorrow, basking in the sun with a mouthful of nuts.

Okay, enough about nuts. But you get a glimpse of what I’m trying to say. I believe our ability to foresee what we have coming based on our present actions allows us to distinguish between what serves us as a people, and what serves against us. So, behold, rules were born. Our ancestors sat around a fire in the depths of the night and unanimously created a ‘The Do’s & Don’ts ‘ list. Then centuries passed and the rules became our culture. But there was always something to rectify, a better angle to do or see things, and so, the few that took up the mantle of responsibility and saw themselves fit to mend a few errors our forefathers made, by default, paid their debt to the human race by ensuring its survival however small their contribution was.

I invite you to think of this…

Think of this. You’re a young girl born in the heart of Central Kenya. The year is 1940. Birds wake you up in the morning, dew kisses your feet every time you go help milk the cows. You love sitting under the trees and listening to the river hum sweet nothings to you. You know the forest is alive because the elders summon rain from the sky when they commune around the sacred Mugumo tree. If the Queen were to describe your childhood, she’d say it was bucolic, warm and pleasant, just like the highlands you’re from.

Years go by, and you leave the country for your higher education. This isn’t the norm. Actually, in your days, African women in European Universities were like unicorns; you heard they existed but you had to see one to believe. But you beat all odds and graduate with a bachelor’s degree of science in biology. You’re 24 now, bubbly with life yet grounded with ambition. Eight years later and you’re the first woman in East Africa to earn a doctorate, getting your PhD from what is now The University of Nairobi.

Life back at home is good but certain things aren’t as you left them. The land is bearer than it ever was. You hear that they’re clearing forests to privatise the land. Acres upon acres of trees were felled, and young mothers now have to walk for miles on end to reach streams that bordered their farms. Rivers are dying, harvests are getting worse by the year, and your home is no longer the home you knew. But not on your watch, you vow with a firm fist in the air. Not when you can do something about it. So, you mobilize everyone willing to share your vision and you get to work.

Rome wasn’t built in a day though, and neither were our forests. You realise you need more than local help, so you shout and protest hoping the world will see what they did to your beautiful home. Your calls for help summon the wrong people too, and that’s when the real fight begins. They whip, threaten and harass you. All these while the people you tried to help watch, helplessly.

It’s said that the darkest hour comes before dawn, and your salvation came right when they had their boot on your neck. The world falls in love with you, your perseverance, and your courage to lay your life down for a cause you believe in. You’re awarded a Nobel peace prize, a pat on the back for being the light when your people most needed it. It’s no longer your dream alone because you shared it with the world. Tens of millions of trees are planted in Kenya and all over the world in your name. Parents tell your story to their kids; the girl that was in the forest, for there’s none like you.

You are Wangari Maathai.

The burden of existence can feel too heavy yet we had no say in it

Now that we know without a shadow of a doubt that you’re not Wangari Maathai, let’s return to our previous conversation. The meme.

The meme reeks of every frustration that comes with existence, especially because the burden feels too heavy yet we had no say in it whatsoever. But there’s nothing we can do about it now because if you’re reading this, it’s too late. It’s too late to wish you were never around, it’s too late to complain about every bad thing life has to offer, it’s too late to cheat the system. The question is, is your sole purpose to fill the earth? Or like Wangari Maathai, is it to ensure those in it have a better future?

You’re free to pick both. After all, life’s a buffet of choices.

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