“In the early 1680s, at just about the time that Edmond Halley and his friend Christopher Wren and Robert Hooke were settling down in a London coffee house and embarking on the casual wager that would result eventually in Isaac Newton’s Principia, Henry Cavendish’s weighing of the undertakings that have occupied us for the past four hundred or so pages, a rather less desirable milestone was being passed on the island of Mauritius, far out in the Indian Ocean some 1,300 kilometres off the east coast of Madagascar.
There, some forgotten sailor or sailor’s pet was hurrying to death the last of the dodos, the famously flightless bird whose dim but trusting nature and lack of leggy zip made it a rather irresistible target for bored young tars on shore leave. Millions of years of peaceful isolation had not prepared it for the erratic and deeply unnerving behaviour of human beings.
We don’t know precisely the circumstances, or even the year, attending the last moments of the last dodo, so we don’t know which arrived first, a world that contained a Principia or one that had no dodos, but we do know that they happened at more or less the same time.”
When you read this caption from Bill Bryson’s brilliant book “A short history of nearly everything: a journey through space and time”, you can’t help but wonder how different the dodo’s story would have been if only it had learnt to fly. Why didn’t it? Who knows. But Charles Darwin would probably point out that it didn’t struggle for existence hard enough to pass the test of the natural selection with flying honours (pun intended).
Quite by chance, “if only the dodo had learnt to fly” popped up in a notebook that I got as a present from some agency, and it’s now my daily reminder that lack of evolution – personal, professional, physical, emotional – is the road to extinction: I should be capable of if not fighting for better places under the sun then at least being able to protect the one I have now. How? I don’t know, I can learn to run faster or grow wings to fly off when needed or bewitch others to get what I want or blow fire like a dragon or- whatever keeps me alive and going.
Because when I get old, I’d rather still wonder about “if only the dodo had learnt to fly” than ponder “if only I had made my life a success”.