From the throne that is her booster seat in the backseat of a Nissan Note way older than her, my five-year-old daughter confidently told the driver, “Dad, you know mom’s dad is older than you and he drives faster.” She did not even register the severity of the burn she had delivered. My wife sniggered in the front passenger seat pretending not to acknowledge it. It was, after all, a general observation by a child comparing two passenger experiences. But moments like this remind me of something really weird. That she exists.
I was a child that drank “Nyayo’s milk”, because of my father’s job I was physically present in the United States watching the verdict of the OJ Simpson trial on television, I know who Elián González is and why the story was so impactful on international immigration policy, I voted in all three post-Moi-era Kenyan presidential elections and watched a country have a national obsession with a snake named Omieri. This is not even a quarter of the things I have existed through. But here she is. My daughter. She exists. A person on her own journey. One day, if it is to be, her child will tell her she drives slower than me.
Seriously. You exist. You are sitting somewhere right now, reading this because you exist. If you contemplate the circumstances that had to line up for you to exist, it can cause a little bit of existential euphoria. Please forgive my romantic, but I choose to look at it this way for this article; Your parents had to be somewhere at the same time, have something meaningful to say to each other, have some form of an emotional connection, be somehow culturally in sync (even in the anti of said culture), be comfortable experiencing each other’s nudity and be vulnerable about their sexuality.
Sex is not a big deal though. Magazines, novels, books, and telenovelas have built capitalist empires around sex, but it is not as big as they make it. Real talk, it lasts as long as a sitcom and that is being generous. It is not the big deal! You want big!? Think about the circumstances that put your parents in the same place at the same time to become your parents. Then go back a few steps behind that. Did someone have to travel for school? Was someone working in a city they always wanted to work in? Did someone get a particular grade in an examination, that ensured they would be in a particular institution, to make a particular group of friends, who then influenced them to be at a particular pub, where they met their future boss who introduced them to their secretary? Think about it. The fact that you exist is actually an existential miracle.
I went to a religious high school funded, somewhat, by missionaries. In one of the many chapel sessions, a visiting “youth pastor” declared that I, and all the other students in the hall, were “winners” by birthright. This was before he launched into a tirade about how American musicians like Aaliyah and DMX were members of a secret satanic society and that listening to them was the equivalent of signing a soul contract with the devil. That is a terrible secret society if children in a country they have never been to know they exist. So, we take the pastor’s wisdom with a bag of salt.
Pastor Quicksilver, like many others before and after him, was saying we “won the race”. Out of millions of sperm released at the point of male ejaculation, you were the fastest one. A common feel-good self-help jive. Also, wildly inaccurate hustle-bro propaganda meant to increase faith in the cult of productivity. Science has proved that “winning” is based on the selection by the female egg, not the fastest sperm. Millions of sperm were literally swimming furiously with no purpose. A metaphor for masculinity? But not for you, reading this, not you. You were chosen! But then that question that comes with natural selection rises from the unconscious to create a little bit of existential dread. “Chosen to do what?”
My daughter was born because I failed the final national examination in high school. In a Luo household getting a C was bad enough. Leave alone attaching a subtraction symbol after it. That grade defined me for a very long time. But that grade also forced my father’s hands to fork over additional resources for a bridging course, in order to join a religious university where I met my longest-running friendships, my photography mentor, and an adjunct lecturer who owned a communications company big on social media.
A combination of a very hard-earned communications degree, a nurtured passion for digital communication, and the support of friends who challenged me got me my first job straight out of university doing social media for a candidate seeking the presidency of the Kenyan Football Federation. He lost. But the work I did for his social media gave me that all mighty “work experience” unemployed Kenyan youth are constantly being harassed by.
The work experience allowed me to get on the radar of the, then, leading lifestyles and entertainment website in the country. After an internship and probation, my performance there led me to have my very own persona and column in a national daily. By the time I had gotten big enough to leave the small team and try on big boy corporate pants, the mantle had to be passed on to a worthy successor. A new female colleague. Our banter over mutual interests and general friendship intersects our stories and aligns with the direct path to a 5 year old telling her father he drives slower than an old(er) man. None of this exists. None of it. If I get anything other than a C minus and have a father with a slightly different temperament. Existential euphoria!
Mind you, mine is just one of two individual storylines that have to intersect for a whole human being to exist. How wild is that? Two stories unfolding individually cross to give rise to another branch. One branch in a tree with many connections. Some not even known to mum and dad. I cannot be convinced that there are no divine shenanigans at play in life. Because just two or three more correct (or wrong) answers in the multiple-choice sections of those exams (even by guesswork) and a child does not exist.
There is a movie from 2013 known as About Time starring Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams, and Bill Nighy, that encompasses the point I am trying to make in one heartbreaking scene. Dad (Nighy) tells Tim (Gleeson) that changing even the smallest details in the past could alter the trajectory of the present very slightly. But that “very slightly” could be something that matters more than you may know at the time.
So, where does this leave us? You were chosen. But to do what? I’m not a youth pastor, but if I dare answer that, I would say you were chosen to live. That’s it. To live. Life is that thing that happens while we are trying so hard to live it. But one day we pause and look back and realize we’ve actually lived quite a bit of it already.