Dying Daily #260: Gratitude for Everyone Who Came Before

We live pretty easy lives these days.

We drive where we need to go, we have safe food at our fingertips, we can talk to people all over the world. I don’t even have to physically walk into my bank anymore unless there’s a problem, like someone stealing my debit number and buying a bunch of Walmart gift cards and cigarettes in New Jersey. Even that was fixed in minutes.

We have all these luxuries and conveniences because of the nearly endless line of other human beings that came before us.

There is this chain of people, stretching back into the distant, distant past, and they endured untold hardship and suffering as they played their part in this great drama called history. A vast majority of them came and went without so much as a mention in the books or our memory, as most of us will.

Your chain created you through millions and millions of tiny iterations and nuances, and here you are. Some were helpful, some not so much, but they all contributed to you being alive at all, and they all did so in circumstances quite different from our own.

There is a beauty in this chain and in the history of all of us, a beauty in how, though we are one in billions, we are a necessary part in the chain for everyone who comes after us.

I find a deep gratitude for everyone who came before and paved the way for all of this, and try to do my part for everyone who comes after.

Can you see yourself in this great play?

Can you be grateful to the ancestors who allowed you to be here?


“Gulls wheel through spokes of sunlight over gracious roofs and dowdy thatch, snatching entrails at the marketplace and escaping over cloistered gardens, spike topped walls and treble-bolted doors. Gulls alight on whitewashed gables, creaking pagodas and dung-ripe stables; circle over towers and cavernous bells and over hidden squares where urns of urine sit by covered wells, watched by mule-drivers, mules and wolf-snouted dogs, ignored by hunch-backed makers of clogs; gather speed up the stoned-in Nakashima River and fly beneath the arches of its bridges, glimpsed form kitchen doors, watched by farmers walking high, stony ridges. Gulls fly through clouds of steam from laundries’ vats; over kites unthreading corpses of cats; over scholars glimpsing truth in fragile patterns; over bath-house adulterers, heartbroken slatterns; fishwives dismembering lobsters and crabs; their husbands gutting mackerel on slabs; woodcutters’ sons sharpening axes; candle-makers, rolling waxes; flint-eyed officials milking taxes; etiolated lacquerers; mottle-skinned dyers; imprecise soothsayers; unblinking liars; weavers of mats; cutters of rushes; ink-lipped calligraphers dipping brushes; booksellers ruined by unsold books; ladies-in-waiting; tasters; dressers; filching page-boys; runny-nosed cooks; sunless attic nooks where seamstresses prick calloused fingers; limping malingerers; swineherds; swindlers; lip-chewed debtors rich in excuses; heard-it-all creditors tightening nooses; prisoners haunted by happier lives and ageing rakes by other men’s wives; skeletal tutors goaded to fits; firemen-turned-looters when occasion permits; tongue-tied witnesses; purchased judges; mothers-in-law nurturing briars and grudges; apothecaries grinding powders with mortars; palanquins carrying not-yet-wed daughters; silent nuns; nine-year-old whores; the once-were-beautiful gnawed by sores; statues of Jizo anointed with posies; syphilitics sneezing through rotted-off noses; potters; barbers; hawkers of oil; tanners; cutlers; carters of night-soil; gate-keepers; bee-keepers; blacksmiths and drapers; torturers; wet-nurses; perjurers; cut-purses; the newborn; the growing; the strong-willed and pliant; the ailing; the dying; the weak and defiant; over the roof of a painter withdrawn first from the world, then his family, and down into a masterpiece that has, in the end, withdrawn from its creator; and around again, where their flight began, over the balcony of the Room of Last Chrysanthemum, where a puddle from last night’s rain is evaporating; a puddle in which Magistrate Shiroyama observes the blurred reflections of gulls wheeling through spokes of sunlight. This world, he thinks, contains just one masterpiece, and that is itself.” 
― David Mitchell, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet