If You Exist is a personal message written to no one living now, but rather to one of our human progeny who might find it many generations in the future. The aging narrator, like others in her generation, faces her own mortality at the same time she faces the possibility of thousands more species, including her own, becoming extinct. She speaks of “Hunters” and “Gatherers” as she has radically redefined these terms, and applies them to her concerns about the future of Homo sapiens and to the survival of life on our planet.
As a private heartfelt message to someone who may never exist, the writer likens her missive to “a note in a bottle set to sea in hopes of reaching you, if you exist in the future on some unfathomable shore.” The narrator shares her personal take on where humanity is now and where we might be heading depending on what choices we will make. Wishing that her imagined reader could answer questions about whether the writer’s anxieties have ever been resolved, she writes about climate change and such topics as human migration, racism, the pandemic, as well as her projected concerns about the possibilities of unbridled technical advancement and human redesign.
After offering her perspective on where hope could lie, the writer ends her note with “the stuff of fairy tales,” her positive fantasy in the final chapter called, “If We Could Meet.”
Lillian Moats was born in Detroit in 1946. She attended Barnard College and graduated with a B.F.A in art and creative writing from the University of Michigan and an M.S. in education from the University of Wisconsin. She has been an artist throughout her life, expressed in painting, film and illustration. From her mid-twenties through mid-forties, with her creative partner JP Somersaulter, she created over 20 short animated films for children and adults. These original stories and retellings of classic fairy tales have been shown and awarded in festivals around the world and are in the permanent collection of the Chicago Film Archive. Her drive to write rose to the forefront in 1993 and has continued to be her most satisfying creative outlet to the present. She has written a collection of original fairy tales, a fictionalized memoir, a work of creative non-fiction, another of political fiction and now a short philosophical essay with a twist.
As she shares her rinsed clean, meticulously ordered thoughts and concerns, Moats handles every word with exquisite care and respect, as though each is a precious stone, a seed, a candle flame. This radiant “note in a bottle” for future generations is the third title in her uniquely gentle yet powerfully discerning set of ethical inquires into the human condition, following The Letter from Death (2009) and Hope: A Myth Reawakened (2015). Here Moats wonders if, decades from now, humankind will still be much like we are or profoundly altered, given the exponential advance of technology and the threatened breakdown of the biosphere. This existentially poignant missive crystallized during the COVID-19 pandemic and the onset of the climate crisis as both ongoing disasters harshly expose intrinsic social inequality and injustice. Moats begins with fresh and provocative definitions for hunting and gathering, reimagining them as two central human impulses. To gather is “to draw close to something, to bring together in a body.” To hunt is “to target for killing, or capture.” To gather is “inclusive”; to hunt is “exclusive.” Moats considers the consequences of each approach as she elucidates how racism and “othering” spur police violence and the unjust and cruel treatment of refugees and immigrants. She also parses the potentially harmful impacts of genetic engineering. Ultimately, Moats expresses the hope that more of us in the here and now will try harder to understand each other and embrace “truth and empathy.”
— Donna Seaman, Booklist
“ I entreat you to read If You Exist. Author Lillian Moats extends challenging insights and queries about possible futures of past and present beings known to us as humans. This is her “note in a bottle” which she hopes will reach an individual, generations hence, “on some unfathomable shore.” What questions does she have for the recipient? Do remnants or improvements exist of what is now considered human? Redefining “Gatherers” and “Hunters” for our present day, she offers caveats, critiques, and hopes of worlds we contrive or allow to evolve. Lillian Moats teaches that much turns on key questions: Will Gatherers or Hunters guide successive generations? Has the stranger been gathered in or hunted down? Composed in artistically drawn short chapters, the book moves to a crescendo of possibilities. I urge you to experience the messages, and hopefully to embody them.”
William H. Schubert, Professor Emeritus and former University Scholar, University of Illinois at Chicago; a Fellow of the International Academy of Education
“Lillian Moats has once again produced a short work of great power. The author addresses leading issues of our age in a manner intended for contemporary readers, yet written as if she is addressing a hoped for reader in a distant future. With a realistic mixture of pessimism and optimism and remarkable sensitivity, understanding, and insight, she focuses on no less fundamental questions than the future of Homo sapiens and Planet Earth. The author explains why that future is in the hands of those alive at present. If You Exist is a gift that could keep on giving, and deserves the attention of a wide audience."
Kathleen E. McCrone, PhD, Professor Emeritus, History and former Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Windsor (Canada)
"This little book moved me almost to tears. While it was a bit too on the nose sometimes, there is no reason to pretend that things shouldn’t be this obvious. We need a warning. I will be adding this to one of my courses in 2022. It comes out too late for me to add it in 2021. My senior seminar students need to read this, think about this, and process what is happening here."
Anthony Farina (Educator)
"IF YOU EXIST, IN SEARCH OF A READER DEEP IN THE FUTURE is another excellent Moats' read. Always succinct, always profound, Moats' prose is like crystal. Unlike crystal, however, the sentiments she expresses are warm and human. Moats astutely describes the most urgent problems facing humanity today (right up through the murder of George Floyd) without blinking, without boring or overloading us. Whether humanity now will make possible humanity in the future remains to be seen-- Moats' draws the direct connection; it all depends on us to awaken. Her arguments are compelling, and her conclusion is not only intelligent, but extremely moving. MY HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION!"
JP Somersaulter (Educator)