One of the more important moments in life was when I first read the story of Socrates. For those that don’t know it, Socrates goes to the oracle at Delphi and asks who is the wisest man in all the world. Socrates says only that he knows nothing with certainty himself. He does this in furtherance of his personal search for truth. The oracle proclaims that Socrates is the wisest, because only Socrates realizes how little he knows, how uncertain everything really is. That’s the gist of it anyway. It will give you some idea of how I see the world. I question everything. Nothing is certain for me. It’s not black and white, truth and untruth, yes and no, up and down. What I see, to put it simply, is possibilities. I don’t just think about what was and what is, but what could have been, what can be, and what may yet be. It is in that context that I put the rest of this exposition.
I heard a story once, I don’t remember where. A man is going to work on a normal day, walking his normal route. There is nothing particularly special or notable about this day. It is not an anniversary or a holiday or a loved one’s birthday. The man walks to work along his morning route as he does each day, but on this day, he happens to see a particular display of flowers in the window. He decides on a whim to buy the flowers for his wife, so he goes into the store. No one will mind if he’s a few minutes late to work. It’s not that busy this time of year anyway. This would not be a notable occurrence if it fell on any other day, but the man works in the World Trade Center, and the date is September 11, 2001. The few minutes he delayed to buy flowers ensured that by the time he was walking up to the building, the disaster would have already occurred. As I said, I don’t remember where I heard this story. I’m sure it was on the radio or the news somewhere. I’m not sure if I got all the details right, or if the story is even true. To me, it doesn’t really matter. It could be true, and I suspect similar stories that follow this pattern exist with all disasters.
I wonder about things like why the man stopped on that particular day? Why did the flower shop choose to display those flowers and not some other flowers which the man might not notice? What if another employee had called in sick, and the man wanted to be on time to cover. What might be considered to be inconsequential decisions turn out to be of profound importance. Every choice we make affects other people and the whole universe around us in countless ways. Consider the exact conditions that had to exist for this particular story to even be meaningful, and how a small change might have made things end differently. Change any one thing and perhaps someone dies, or perhaps nothing happens and no one cares. It’s not altogether different from the “butterfly effect” whereby the beat of a butterfly’s wing causes it to rain or snow in some faraway place, though I like to think my example is a good deal simpler and sounds a great deal less ridiculous. The little choices like that can be the most critical, though we never know it. Do I go to the park or do I go shopping. I might meet a future wife or husband if I choose one and not the other. I might get into a car accident along either route, or neither, or both. Anything is possible, it all depends on everything else.
But, I still haven’t come to my point, and you’re probably wondering what the title has to do with anything else, so here it is. I have always been an individual of profound faith, though I rarely show it. I consider spiritual questions in the same way as I do everything else. I begin with uncertainty and go from there. So, I start with a simple question like ‘What is a miracle exactly?’ It can’t mean that something impossible happens, because once something happens, it’s then no longer impossible, is it? It must then be that something incalculably improbable happens, despite whatever forces might seem to suggest or influence that thing not to happen. Think of all the things that had to occur for the man from the story to live. The right flowers, the right time, the right place, the right conditions, even something as simple as a clear view to the display at the right moment. A million billion things may have contributed to putting the man in that place at that time. To me, that’s a miracle. To me, they happen every day, but because we can’t see all the ways that things are connected, we’ll never know what they are, or even that they happened at all. God doesn’t need to make fire rain from the sky or flood the whole world to work His will when a single atom out of place can start a chain reaction that changes an important outcome. I believe that the hand of God can act in many ways. I think the most important way is through us, and the choices we make. Most of the time, it probably doesn’t matter. Most of the time, whether we choose eggs or bacon, it’s probably not going to change the world. But maybe, just maybe, once in forever, when we go to Kroger instead of Wal-Mart, or when we accidentally take the wrong freeway exit, there’s an angel sitting on our shoulder, working God’s will without our ever being the wiser. It’s a big universe, and anything is possible.