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Post details: One Miracle A Month

One Miracle A Month

If you are bewildered that every now and then life tosses you a little bone in the form of a miracle, you are not alone. British mathematician John Littlewood noticed that too, but instead of puzzling over it he went on and calculated how often on the average we should encounter highly improbable events in our daily lives. He defined a miracle as a rare occurrence whose likelihood is less then one in a million. Then he simply estimated how many events a regular person experiences every day, figured how long it would take to accrue one million of them and came to the conclusion that once every 35 days or so we should happen upon a one-in-a-million event. Think of it this way: if the chances of you winning a lottery are one in a million, then buying a million tickets makes winning a lottery almost a foregone conclusion. If we translate Littlewood's statistical prestidigitation into plain English: we are allotted roughly one miracle per month!

A few months ago, Australians came up with a really crazy idea to promote tourism. They created a position of the caretaker of one of their tropical islands (billed as "the best job in the world"), and offered $100K for 6 months of lazying around palm skirted beaches, exploring the Great Barrier Reef and sharing the resulting shark stories with potential tourists all over the world. All you had to do was shoot a short application videoclip, and the free ticket to Hamilton Island would be yours, with a generous compensation package and keys to a five million mansion to boot. Mango flavored lollipops not included.

Considering that roughly 35,000 applicants sent in their video, winning this job would qualify as a miracle in its own right. But my decision making cerebral cortex has a long standing policy of "No crazy idea left behind", so I talked one of my friends into recharging his camera and dragged him to a nearby Roosevelt Island on one cold February weekend to shoot the application clip. We don't really have any Hamilton islands in Northern Virginia, so I figured that Roosevelt's would be my next best shot in proving to the Queensland Board of Tourism that I am capable of existing on an island that bears a great name from American history (a subsequent research revealed that Hamilton Island is actually named after one of the officers of the HMS Salamander, the British ship that first landed on the island).

Roosevelt Island, located on the Potomac river just across from the Kennedy Center, is a small natural preserve accessible by a short walkway bridge from George Washington Memorial Parkway. The Teddy Roosevelt monument that gave the island its name is fittingly drowned in mostly uncultivated woods, so we found plenty of natural scenery to use as a backdrop for the videoclip. The island itself is rather small and with the possible exception of strolling loan sharks, does not abound in any particularly dangerous wildlife. Its trees are a different story though, and most of them seem to have an affinity to internal rotting that often leads to nearly spontaneous disintegration. The floor of the island is littered with rotting stumps and fallen tree limbs and with a particularly bad timing you could easily incur a tree induced bump on your head, maybe even a concussion.

We were shooting the second segment of the video, when something unusual happened. Without any help from wind or an overweight squirrel, the upper part of one of the trees broke off and in a slow motion came crashing down. My monthly miracle materialized right there in front of our eyes, although, sadly, not in front of our electronic eyes. Despite the presence of two video and one digital camera, we didn't catch a single frame of it. Before we could close our gaping mouths, the spectacle was over. What a pity. It would make a great contribution to YouTube.

That is how miracles operate. We know that statistically speaking, they occur with certain periodicity, but we never know exactly when the next one will strike. So the moral of this story is - be prepared. Have your camera ready. Figuratively speaking.

As a consolation prize, I shot one peculiarly deformed young tree that suggested beyond reasonable doubt that a screw is not really a human invention. Putting a helical groove on a shaft is something Mother Nature is perfectly capable of by herself. Or maybe it was just a small snake that fell asleep on the tree and was overgrown by its bark. Whatever the case was, it would be a stretch to call it a miracle. But that's ok, I have time. If Littlewood is right, the next one should be coming my way sometime in late March. I'll have my spiritual camera ready.



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