I love acknowledgments pages, and award acceptance speeches, and other public expressions of gratitude where people spell out how their individual success is interconnected with the gifts of other people. And it occurs to me that, rather than going through all of the struggle of writing a book or making a film or performing a song, I can use this column right now for my own acceptance speech, to offer thanks.
For what? You ask. For my life!
Oh! What a surprise! I can’t believe I was picked for this award—a lifetime in a human body on planet earth! I am honored to accept! But I could never have done it alone. There are so many I must thank!
First of all, I would like to thank the prokaryote cells, the first single-celled organisms, which evolved three and a half billion years ago. You taught me about personal boundaries.
I wish I could name all of the single celled beings who contributed to my life, but time simply won’t permit. You know who you are. To the sea sponges, who began to differentiate tissues six hundred million years ago, it couldn’t have happened without you.
I must name the flat worms, who developed brains 550 million years ago. Thank you for having the idea of a brain, and a brain to put the idea into. To the Cambrian explosion that led to a sudden diversification of life, I will forever be grateful; that your explosion headed my direction.
To all of the eels and fish who developed complex nervous systems, backbones, jaws, eyes, and limbs, you made me who I am today. How could 365 million years have passed so quickly?
To the tetrapods and amphibians who made it possible to come out of the water, who developed lungs so that you could live on the land—to frogs and dinosaurs and birds and reptiles—thank you. It is a privilege to still share the earth with some of you, and we will forever grieve those gone too soon. Lighting a candle for you, stegosaurus.
To the proto-mammals who evolved away from the true reptiles, and eventually became mammals, I know it must have been hard. Thanks for taking the risk 250 million years ago.
And mammals, such gifts you have given me! Warm blood, hair, the ability to sweat and regulate my temperature—always appreciated. And giving birth to live babies instead of laying eggs made my whole entry into the world radically different than it would have been.
Dear, dear, primates…where to begin!!! When I imagine you evolving about sixty five million years ago, just as the dinosaurs died out, I think perhaps it was meant to be. Kismet. The opposable thumb? Sheer genius.
The variations in primate species over the next 64,900,000 years are simply too many to name, and the music is beginning to swell. But let me just thank the lemurs and the tarsiers for forward-facing eyes; the gibbons for stronger shoulders, larger brains, and the lack of a tail; the orangutans and gorillas for deepening intelligence and more social skills; the chimpanzees and bonobos for the larynx, which makes speech possible….
And I simply must mention a few more of you. To the Australopithecus—my beloved Lucy—thank you for walking on two feet! To the Homo Habilis, thanks for using those stone tools. They made many things possible.
To Homo Ergaster, less than two million years ago, I’m glad your arms shortened, and I can’t thank you enough for fire. And, while I’m proud to have come from Africa as all humans did, I am also glad that you were bold and adventurous enough to seek other parts of the world.
To Homo Heidelbergensis, ancestor of the Neanderthals, words can’t suffice. And you Neanderthals, in Eurasia, you’ve given some of us a bit of our DNA by mating with Homo Sapiens. I’m sure your parents gave you a hard time about that, but I’m glad you did it.
And to Homo Sapiens, we’re so new here—only 100,000 years old, and people say only 50,000 with advanced languages, art, music, and long distance trade, but you are my home team! While we’ve evolved in some ways I wish we hadn’t, still I must lift up our collective name with praise for such things as squirrel-proof bird feeders and Pablo Neruda’s poetry.
To my direct ancestors, to my parents, I couldn’t have done it without of you.
Thank you. Thank you so much.