Sunday, February 21, 2010

By Coincidence

Isn’t there enough mystery in the knowable universe to account for man’s innate yearning for the transcendent?  For instance, take the question of coincidence. There is a form of spiritual determinism that points to the fact that there is no mistake in A running into B on X street at Y time. But let’s look at this from the point of view of historical determinism of the scientifically verifiable kind. You are a creature whose grandparents were born in Lithuania, and your grandfather migrated to the United States by way of South Africa. Your father grew up in the Bronx and attended DeWitt Clinton High School. You find yourself walking towards an old friend, a blueblood who is the parent of one of your children’s elementary school friends. He has a penchant for wingtips and Chesterfields and stands out in any crowd due to his height. He always meets the world with an innocence verging on irony, as if to say what is this folly all about? Your two histories have intertwined and the succession of events that have made up your respective lives led you each to St. Mary’s Church, located on the north side of 46th Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, where you briefly exchange salutations, perfunctorily uttering little nothings about wives and children, promising to make a date to get together while knowing that there is no imminent prospect of shared interests. Still, you go through the motions of empty promises for no other reason than a mutually shared affection for each other and a shared stretch of the past.
From the point of view of spiritualism, your meeting conveys a certain magic that might even propel you to search for further meaning, while from the point of view of historical determinism it’s little more than an interlude that could be the subject of tomes filled with data tracing the steps that led up to the fortuitous crossing of two essentially random dots. Isn’t it an anthropocentrism to believe that God, if he exists, would have time for all these shenanigans? One telephone call taken, one e-mail returned, would have made each of you late enough to forestall the prospect of any congress, and yet here you are, and that is the wonder of life. Out of the billions of possibilities, the right concatenation of molecules and atoms forms under the right temperatures to create carbon, and from carbon comes life, which evolves and evolves until it evolves itself out of existence entirely, leaving in its wake an ice covered rock that somersaults out of the orbit of its warming sun on an unacknowledged journey into what was once known to human consciousness as space.

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