Tiny fists will flail the air.
Tender lungs will squall in protest.
Gleaming scissors or a stone-edged knife will sever the umbilical.
Someone in hospital or hovel will utter a blessing or a curse, and our mother
this island universe, will issue its 6 billionth living human soul.
It may be happening even as you read this. It may have happened last month.
point to mid-October as the magic moment.
No matter. People-counting is not an exact science. There is no universal
in this busy hive of humanity, where populations refuse to hold steady, and
quantified, packaged and manipulated. Wars, plagues and natural disasters
the task of predicting departures, so theres no way of calculating when live
overtake deaths sufficiently to produce this mythic number--6 billion.
Experts suggest that as many as one in seven people ever born are still
what comfort you can, but I dont think that means you stand a one in seven
never dying. Actually, the ratio may be as low as one in 20. As I say, this
business, like most monkey-business, is not exact.
Still, the population of each nation is known to an astonishing degree, so
experts agree that well before the new millennium, the 6 billionth living
person will have
been born. Three seconds later, at the current rate, number 6
billion-plus-one will be born,
according to my son, Justin. Hes the 10-year-old who put me one over Zero
Growths approved number of offspring, and for whom I wouldnt take the
I dont know where he got his information, but Justin once observed that
a woman gives birth every three seconds. To which my 13-year-old son, Travis,
responded, Weve got to find that woman and put a stop to it.
The six billionth soul is likely to be Asian or African and quite poor,
sure some entrepreneur would gladly lavish riches upon him or her.
Tell her what shes won, Bob!
Millicent, this is your lucky day. In honor of your distinction as the six
human being alive on the planet, you have won a gold-plated Porsche,
for the 21st century; lifetime subscriptions to Primestar, America On-line and
Fax-Master; a gift basket of feminine hygiene articles and pharmaceuticals; a
cruise to be taken with your guardian of choice...
In reality, her (or his) generation will inherit gifts far more precious and
Like every one of us, they will inherit that ultimate gift, and one that we
daily--a childs awe at the mystery of existence. And they will be given the
of a clean slate--a brand new millennium--that, with the help of the good
leaders and technologies bordering on the mystical, might yet put an end to
bugaboos such as genocide, world war and genetic diseases.
On the other hand, they will be born into a world with an exploding
that doubled in this century alone, and likely will more than double again
the next. A
world in which a billion Asians soon may be plugging in ozone-depleting
cranking up smog-generating cars, not that I blame them. A world in which
dying off at perhaps the fastest rate in history, and in which
oxygen-generating rain forests
are sacrificed for short-term profits. A world in which each decade gets
hotter than the
one before. Its a world brimming with weapons, including new generations of
rockets and planes that force a sell-off of previous weaponry to the highest
Still, I tend to be an optimism. The next generation will inherit a global
so to speak. A larger percentage will enjoy democracy, human rights and
perhaps, any generation in history. They will lay claim to the material and
resources of space. They may find ways to communicate with civilizations from
stars--maybe even wise old creatures with solutions to our most pressing
Theyll inherit incredible technologies for growing foods and recombining the
elements to produce new abundance and ever-increasing life-spans. Even now
are analyzing all the things that make us mortal and, therefore, graveyard
suggest the first virtually immortal human being is alive already--a thought
so scary, so
exhilarating, it brings a pause. And so I pause, even if the world never does.
Heres to you Number 6 billion, wherever, whenever, you may be. Heres hoping
your life is a journey into light.