The Impulse to Exist


Brandywine Falls, by Patricia Schmitt

Excerpt from A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson:

"Like most things that thrive in harsh environments, lichens are slow-growing. It may take a lichen more than half a century to attain the dimensions of a shirt button. Those the size of dinner plates, write David Attenborough, are therefore ‘likely to be hundreds if not thousands of years old.’ It would be hard to imagine a less fulfilling existence. ‘They simply exist,’ Attenborough adds, ‘testifying to the moving fact that life even at its simplest level occurs, apparently, just for its own sake.’ 

It is easy to overlook this thought that life just is. As humans we are inclined to feel that life must have a point. We have plans and aspirations and desires. We want to take constant advantage of the intoxicating existence we’ve been endowed with. But what’s life to a lichen? Yet its impulse to exist, to be, is every bit as strong as ours—arguably even stronger. If I were told that I had to spend decades being a furry growth on a rock in the woods, I believe I would lose the will to go on. Lichens don’t. Like virtually all living things, they will suffer any hardship, endure any insult, for a moment’s additional existence. Life, in short just wants to be. But—here’s an interesting point—for the most part it doesn’t want to be much."