In the end, we believe what we want to believe.
It’s always bothered me when people tell the story of how the lost car keys saved their life. You know, the one that goes like this: “I spent an extra 15 minutes searching for my keys this morning and I was so mad because I was going to be late for work. But then, while driving, I passed a huge accident. An escape convict in a stolen car ran the light and the other driver was blasted to smithereens. I am so blessed because God saved me from being in that accident and it was a miracle.”
Is that a fact? I always want to ask if it’s a fact but it seems rude to question other people’s miracles.
But is it? A miracle, I mean. That’s the conundrum, we can’t know what would’ve happened if... because it didn’t.
On the flip side of the coin, how do we know miracles don’t happen dozens of times each and every day? Maybe you were day dreaming and missed the exit, maybe someone had to go and get a flat tire right in front of you, maybe you lost your car in the parking lot or maybe nothing out of the ordinary happened at all but someone else lost their keys or missed their exit thus preventing them from T-boning you at an intersection.
We don’t go around saying, “Nothing happened today and it was miracle!” But maybe we should.
Miracle or coincidence?
What if the keys were hanging on the hook in the kitchen and you left right on time? Would you definitely have been in the accident or, might it have still involved the same two cars? There are no tangible answers but yet we still want to believe and can’t dissuade ourselves from looking for evidence.
Believing that events have meaning seems to be hardwired in our DNA despite the fact that the only supporting evidence lies in outcomes that never transpired. Human minds can find evidence to support absolutely anything at all so long as we want to believe it.
All miracles aside, perhaps the single most important evolutionary development that allowed humans to rise up the food chain was the ability to recognize patterns. We see imaginary faces in clouds and in trees just as easily as spotting the gaze of a predator from within the tall grass.
Pattern recognition allowed us to navigate by the stars and to know when to plant the crops. The FBI uses pattern recognition to profile serial killers and boxers use it to land a knock out punch.
Have we become so skilled at pattern recognition that we are now able to observe the wheels in the sky orchestrating the big picture? Well, maybe, but we do know this: humans can process seven things at once, give or take two depending on I.Q and coffee intake. Because there are a million or so observable things happening at all times, it hardly makes sense that we should focus our attention on seven of them and then call that reality.
Hey, do me a favor right quick and tell me which side of this mask is concave and in which direction it is turning?
Even knowing beforehand that it is an optical illusion, your brain cannot stop seeing the illusion. So my question is, what if you didn’t know or even suspect that there was another angle from which to view something? Chances are you would accept it at face value.
In the same way that the A minor is relative to the key of C major – the same pattern from an altered perspective reveals a completely different thing.
The power of perspective and observation will make your beliefs about the world true, but only in your own world.
In November of 2004, shortly after making the final payment, my car was stolen out of my mom’s driveway. My purse was in it along with my phone, camera gear, a suitcase of clothes plus all of my CD’s and the spare keys to my house including the garage door opener. We were returning from a road trip and I was dropping her off. Not planning to stay long, I went inside but then ended up staying for dinner.
Let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of returning to the spot where your car was, now gone without a trace.
Needless to say, the empty driveway was more than a little inconvenient. My insurance company flatly did not believe me about the contents of the car and refused to pay for anything except the actual car itself. Naturally I had closed my bank accounts immediately but this did not stop the crooks from writing my canceled checks all over town and it did not stop the collection agencies from pursuing me in an effort to collect funds for all the bounced checks.
The car debacle took months of unpleasantness to rectify. To make myself feel better, I fired my insurance company. I don’t want to name names but let’s just pretend they were called Allstate, and I told myself that perhaps I wasn’t as unlucky as it seemed.
Could I have experienced an unconfirmed miracle? There’s no way to know what would’ve happened if my car hadn’t been stolen so I thought why not assume the best? Maybe my perspective was all wrong and I thought I was looking at a picture of a horse when it was actually a frog, maybe I can’t tell which side of the mask is concave and which is convex.
Had my car been waiting for me in the driveway, like it had been for the past seven years, I may have driven it under a truck the next morning on my way to work. I may have been driving too fast, swerved to miss a stray dog and crashed through the guard rail, plummeting to a fiery death.
Or, I could just be the unlucky victim of a very expensive crime.
Blessing or curse?
Unprovable either way so the verdict is out for interpretation.
But does it matter? Our interpretation, I mean. Does it affect the actual truth? I believe it does not. Universal law is what it is and certainly doesn’t care what we think of it. Gravity doesn’t go away or get stronger based on the strength of our conviction that gravity is real. The difference being, of course, that gravity is provable. Gravity can be demonstrated in predictable and consistent ways.
Unconfirmed miracles on the other hand, not so much.
But does that mean they aren’t real?
Last year in March, Xavier and I went to see David Sedaris at the Joseph Myerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.
He was wearing the owl tie that I given him the previous year after his performance at Popejoy Hall in Albuquerque. Xavier and I stayed for the book signing after the show so I could remind Mr. Sedaris that I was the one who had given him the tie (and therefore probably his biggest fan).
He remembered me and said it was the only owl gift from the book tour that he hadn’t thrown away.
Xavier and I arrived in Baltimore early so we would have plenty of time to park and to eat before the show. We found a good parking space on a residential street that was a five minute walk from the theater. We both made it a point to memorize the exact address so we wouldn’t forget where we left the car.
212 Park Avenue. Simple enough.
If you’ve ever been to see David Sedaris, you know it’s not unreasonable to stand in line for 2-3 hours to get a book signed after the show. By the time we left the theater, it was after midnight.
Midnight in Baltimore is unsettling. Dark, cold, raining, and a bad reputation for crime in the streets.
On the upside, at least we knew that the car was nearby. Xavier put the address in his phone and we began walking, and walking, and walking. We walked much further than we knew we should have and were passing things that did not look familiar but the map said we were going the right way.
Sensing that something was amiss, we cleared the route and re-entered the address. This time the map showed us a different route and, though irritated, we felt relieved to have finally found the right way.
Did I mention that it was raining and that I was wearing high heels?
Once again we set out towards the car. Walking quickly and confidently so as to not look like what we were – small town folk wandering lost in the streets of Baltimore at 1:00am, or in other words, likely to get mugged – we said that the map was stupid and clearly to blame for this predicament.
Lost in unfamiliar territory, I was getting blisters on my feet and trying to stay cool like Fonzie. This was no time to come unhinged.
We followed the map and we walked some more. A lot more.
At this point, most couples would’ve started bickering over who was at fault. We did not, and thus passed some kind of ill-timed cosmic compatibility test. Nothing brings out the true colors like being cold, tired, and scared. For a moment I thought of the movie Open Water and hoped we would not suffer the same fate.
The map said we were headed right to the car but it was becoming obvious that we were nowhere near the car and probably even further away than before re-entering the address.
You know that feeling when you wake up in a hotel room and, just for a split second, don’t know where you are? Disconcertion and panic until the rest of your brain fires up and delivers the pertinent info? Yeah, it was like that, minus the resolution.
Had we wandered into an alternate dimension? Seriously, what the hell was happening?
We walked around downtown Baltimore for an hour and half in the middle of night, following our map on one wild goose chase after another.
Eventually, when we ready to give up and find benches to sleep on, Xavier noticed that there were not one, and not two, but actually three streets with the name Park Avenue in the vicinity of Joseph Myerhoff Symphony Hall.
At 1:45 in the morning, we finally found our way to the right 212 Park Avenue and to our car that was waiting for us.
We drove home without incident.
Was the universe fucking with us or keeping us away from the car for a specific reason? Could this be yet another Unconfirmed Miracle?
Think what you will but I’ll tell you this. Not one person threatened or even approached us while we wandered. Neither of our phone batteries died. Xavier did not lose the keys. The car started right up and we did not get in an accident on the way home. If the universe were fucking with us, wouldn’t something have actually happened? Wouldn’t we have gotten mugged or wrecked the car on the highway?
What did happen is that we were delayed by an hour and a half by a very bizarre map anomaly.
While we were shivering in the rain thinking what a bullshit scenario we had found ourselves in, maybe we were seeing the optical illusion and the truth is that we were being guided away from something sinister – a Bogey Man in the night who would’ve found us had things gone as planned.
There’s no way to know but, in the end, it’s what I choose to believe.