Anne received $3,050 from FFRF for her winning essay. $50 bonuses provided by FFRF members Dean and Dorea Schramm.
In 2010, advanced placement statistics was not my strongest course. In fact, I’ve never really excelled at math.
Looking back, I don’t know why or how I found myself sitting in Mr. Best’s seventh-period class. But I’m glad I was there, because that class changed the way I view the universe and my place in it.
I grew up on a street that was a suburban family’s dream. Kids playing kickball in the road after school. Neighbors were best friends. We held block parties and street-wide yard sales. In the evenings, children would run through neighboring backyards, catching fireflies.
My best friend at the time, Alice, lived at the very end of our street. One day, she and I sat on the curb eating dry Lucky Charms out of plastic cups, watching the wiffleball game going on in the road.
Alice turned to me and said, “We’re sisters, you know.” And I thought, yes, we’re just like sisters, but not real sisters. So I said, “Not real sisters, though.”
She went on to explain to me that we were real sisters because of Adam and Eve and because we’re all God’s children. “But my family doesn’t believe in God,” I told her.
She didn’t hesitate. “Then you’re going to hell.”
I lay awake that night terrified that she was right, that I would end up in hell. It wasn’t my fault that my parents never taught me about God, surely He would understand and accept me into heaven, right? And for the first time in my life, I prayed. I made a deal with Him: If I promised to be good for the rest of my life, He wouldn’t send me to hell.
As the years began to fall away, my pact with God did not. Though I had no formal religious teaching, I trusted that being “good” would be good enough for Him. I found myself doing the “right thing,” like being nice to my little sister and not cheating on tests. Because I knew that if I did, I wouldn’t get into heaven.
Then, in 2009, my dog died. Satch was a collie we’d adopted 10 years before and was a better friend than most humans I knew. One day she stopped eating, so we brought her to the vet. A week later, she lay on the floor of the vet’s office, her breaths slowing, her heartbeat becoming fainter. There’s still a hole in my gut every time I think about her and the way we lost her.
It made me ask, still makes me ask, the age-old question: Why do bad things happen to good people, or dogs?
AP statistics was simple enough at first, percentages and fractions and graphs -— mostly things that I had seen before but never really knew were statistics. Then we got into the more complicated areas. We had to do problems that weren’t just, “What are the chan-ces of this happening?”
We had to figure out the chances of A happening if B and C also happen. It got messy and I wasn’t very good at it, too many formulas to remember.
Then it hit me. As Mr. Best went on about standard deviations, I found myself wondering how many things had to go the way they did for me to even exist. What if my mom had gone to a different bar the night she met my dad? What if my grandma married the man she was first engaged to instead of my grandpa? What if my great-great grandparents decided to not move to America?
Going back to the beginning of time, what was the chance of all the things happening that needed to happen for me to exist? The big bang, planets aligning, life beginning, evolution, dinosaurs, mass extinctions, the Stone Age, farming, the Industrial Revolution, everything up until the moment I was conceived.
What are the chances? Next to nothing, such a small chance that it must be a near impossibility.
We’re all near impossibilities, then. Every single one of us. Every animal and insect, every person you’ve ever met. A left turn instead of a right, a decision to stay in one night instead of going out, deciding to marry your first love instead of your true love. Every decision ever made had to be made for any one of us to be alive right now. All living things have this in common.
The fact that I so easily could have never even come close to existing is what makes me want to be a good person, to be kind. Appreciating the moments we almost never had is something we should all do, and not because we think some god will send us to the hell of which we have no proof. Good and bad things happen. It’s all just chance and probabilities.
That I can feel kinship with my dogs and with the grass and even the spiders that make the back of my neck prickle, is something more beautiful than anything that some god created intentionally.
We’re all just happy accidents, near mathematical impossibilities. Isn’t that great?
Anne Clymer, 20, Danbury, Conn., is a junior at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. Her major is professional writing with an emphasis on screenwriting and her “true passion in writing is poetry.”