Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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For Number 6 billion, the world holds dangers, delights
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   08/20/1999)

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 earth, 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. Some point to mid-October as the magic moment.

No matter. People-counting is not an exact science. There is no universal census taker in this busy hive of humanity, where populations refuse to hold steady, and resent being quantified, packaged and manipulated. Wars, plagues and natural disasters render untidy the task of predicting departures, so theres no way of calculating when live births will overtake deaths sufficiently to produce this mythic number--6 billion.

Experts suggest that as many as one in seven people ever born are still alive. Take what comfort you can, but I dont think that means you stand a one in seven chance of never dying. Actually, the ratio may be as low as one in 20. As I say, this people-counting business, like most monkey-business, is not exact.

Still, the population of each nation is known to an astonishing degree, so that most 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 Population Growths approved number of offspring, and for whom I wouldnt take the world.

I dont know where he got his information, but Justin once observed that somewhere 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, although Im 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 billionth human being alive on the planet, you have won a gold-plated Porsche, custom-designed for the 21st century; lifetime subscriptions to Primestar, America On-line and Fax-Master; a gift basket of feminine hygiene articles and pharmaceuticals; a world cruise to be taken with your guardian of choice...

In reality, her (or his) generation will inherit gifts far more precious and ominous. Like every one of us, they will inherit that ultimate gift, and one that we squander daily--a childs awe at the mystery of existence. And they will be given the penultimate gift of a clean slate--a brand new millennium--that, with the help of the good Lord, wise leaders and technologies bordering on the mystical, might yet put an end to 20th century bugaboos such as genocide, world war and genetic diseases.

On the other hand, they will be born into a world with an exploding population--one 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 refrigerators and cranking up smog-generating cars, not that I blame them. A world in which species are 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 un-needed rockets and planes that force a sell-off of previous weaponry to the highest bidders.

Still, I tend to be an optimism. The next generation will inherit a global consciousness, so to speak. A larger percentage will enjoy democracy, human rights and prosperity than, perhaps, any generation in history. They will lay claim to the material and spiritual resources of space. They may find ways to communicate with civilizations from other stars--maybe even wise old creatures with solutions to our most pressing problems. Theyll inherit incredible technologies for growing foods and recombining the worlds elements to produce new abundance and ever-increasing life-spans. Even now scientists are analyzing all the things that make us mortal and, therefore, graveyard bound. Some 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.