Choose your parents. Choose to be born during a specific period of history. Choose your gender. Choose your race, ethnicity, language and social class. Choose your level of intellect, your various talents, the size and shape of your body, the color of your eyes, the strength in your arms and legs. Choose your level of health. Choose your personality, character and unequalled tenacity.
Then choose the conflicts and accidents to befall you. Be aware: the pre-birth menu does not offer the choice of “no accident”. You must choose something. Nazis or Soviets should bust down your door, a tsunami must wreck your village, a pipeline should explode near your place of work, a father should beat you, a Sandusky molest you, a priest have his way with you, or a stray bullet must pierce your (very much beloved) infant brother’s skull. If you’re to avoid violence or natural disaster, you must at least choose to face some injury or illness, either a physical defect or mental trait that renders you stubborn, foolish or relentlessly sad. Perhaps you’ll be obese, depressed or suffer from acid reflux. There’s just no way out of this. We’ve yet to see anyone, even members of the über-class, spend a life without conflict. Jesus was tortured to death. The Buddha found suffering everywhere. Socrates drank hemlock. Bill Gates is a nerd. Warren Buffett feels guilty about his secretary’s taxes.
Now, conflicts and disasters aside, build your business (or maintain your occupation) yourself. Mine your own ore. Smelt your own metal. Forge every single tool, nail, screw and bolt, every girder and corrugated sheet. Farm your own trees; cut and transport your own lumber. In the process, make your own energy; dig your own wells. Fix every last thing yourself. Raise and educate your children without any teachers, schools, scientists or coaches. Heal every ailment; treat every sore without a single doctor or nurse. Also, make your own weapons (also without scientists) to defeat or neutralize your enemies without any help from conscripts, volunteers or manic patriots. In the process, grow, raise, harvest and cook your own food. While eating, think things through carefully, tenaciously: have you prepared yourself for every possible calamity, including your certain death?
In short, have you dug your own grave? And can you be sure to remain standing near its foot at the hour of your death? Because if you happen to drop dead in some other place, you cannot expect anyone to drag your cadaver across the empire of your ego. They’ll all be too busy fending for themselves to notice that you’re gone.