What Are the Chances

Today I heard that the probability of being born is about one in 400 trillion. With a chance that small to be who you are, your being alive is nothing short of a miracle! It turns out, I am not the only one curious about this statistic.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel The Signature of All Things, in which the main character is on a quest to understand the scientific laws of nature in the 19th century when much was not yet known. She talks of transmutation and competition, struggle as the catalyst for change in all species, and the constant unfolding of creation occurring all around us, often at a microscopic level, invisible to the naked eye.

And all this has got me thinking about the marvel of life.

It’s easy to forget that we’re here for a grand experiment – something that cannot be quantified by Facebook posts or Instagram photos. How often do we drive to work, eyes glazed over, ignoring the precious moment? Or hide from our fears of interacting with one another behind phones and headphones on the bus, in the coffee shop, or at the park? With so much forgetting how precious this being alive is, how do we  make use of this rare chance in 400 trillion that we’ve been given?

That’s the paradox of being human I suppose. We’re each so painfully and stubbornly at the mercy of our thoughts and emotions that it’s rare to be fully present for longer than a number of minutes, if not seconds. It’s like we’re blinking our way through life, opening to the miracle of being alive for brief moments of warming light, only to close our eyes once more to the night. We’re such strange creatures!

I am no less a blinking speck of stardust than the rest with one in 400 trillion chances that I’d be the human I am, born on March 9, to my mother and father. It’s certainly something to be grateful for. And yet, I am the first to admit I stumble often into the illusion that I’m all alone and that life is a series of painful events and challenges. It takes effort to right my ship and look at all the good around me. Often times, it takes a phone call or a hug to feel connected to the love of my friends and family again. It’s okay that it’s not easy. Maybe we’re designed for such a meandering range of awareness.

Nevertheless, it’s good to make the effort to think about all there is to be grateful for; it certainly helps bolster the soul. So tonight, when you reflect on your day before nodding off to sleep, keep in mind how rare and special it is that you get to be who you are in this very moment in time. You’re a miracle, a mystery, an ever-changing specimen of the human kind, and I’m so glad we get to be here together.

Portrait

A Rare Kind of Contentedness

There are some roads we travel on just once, and others we revisit again and again. It’s hard to know the significance of such a series of curves – gray concrete and yellow lines. But as I peer through my dashboard at the two golden orbs casting tunnels of light across the foggy I-5 Northbound in Oregon, I am reminded of a certain road I traveled on just once in Spain.

I was perched tall on the bus seat, bobbing gently as we chugged along the windy road. Sleepily, I pressed my nose against the cool window, staring out into a misty tide of fog. Each time we’d wind around a bend, the moon would shimmer, skipping alongside the dream catcher of forested hills to keep pace with us. I was returning to San Sebastian from a day trip to Bilbao.

There was something special that happened that day. I had met an unlikely friend: an old woman with pearlescent white hair.  When I got off the train at the top of the hill, I spotted her walking across the lawn with a limp, slowly dragging a checkered push cart behind her.

I walked to the railing that lined the park to take in the view. It was breathtaking. There were tall mountains and the charming city of Bilbao below, interspersed with patches of vibrant green farmland and a silver ribbon of river winding between them. The air felt cool, fresh and somehow, familiar.

I felt a presence approach behind me and turned to see a beautiful, smiling face studying me curiously. She must have been standing there for a few minutes watching me. We got to talking with the mediocre Spanish I learned in school and she told me that her parents were carpenters. They had once visited the old growth forests of Northern California and Oregon and told her about the unbelievably tall trees, she explained wide eyed with hands outstretched. Then she told me I should learn more languages and study a specialty outside of Journalism. I laughed, appreciating the motherly advice. I told her I thought it was a good idea. We chatted some more, using hand gestures and laughter to close the gap in our understanding of each other’s words. She invited me to join her for dinner the following night, and although I was touched, I had already purchased a bus ticket back to San Sebastian where I was staying with a friend.

We decided to take a picture together, stopping a passerby to snap the photo. After five, or what felt like ten kisses, and several hugs, we parted ways. As she shuffled down the path, just before dipping out of sight around the bend and down the hill, she turned once to blow me a kiss. Like waking from a dream, I stumbled out of the shell of my loneliness and felt my beating heart again. I blew her one back and turned to walk the opposite direction with tears in my eyes.

bilbao (1)

I learned an important lesson that afternoon: that no matter how far from home, and no matter how alone I perceive myself to be, the world never stops inviting me to take its hand once more.

My short visit to Bilbao was wonderful, nourishing and provided the breakthrough I needed in the moment. The fog that crept in later that night no longer felt ominous, just as it doesn’t tonight on my drive home to Portland. The light of the moon and my headlights are enough.

In the comfort of not needing to see beyond just a few steps ahead, the ride can be the destination itself. And that creates a beautiful, rare kind of contentedness.