This I Believe

Andy - Norwood, Massachusetts
Entered on September 11, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: question

I believe that some things are inexplicable.

The second or third-largest coincidence I’ve ever experienced was when I was 200 miles away from home at a restaurant in Vermont enjoying a bowl of tomato-basil soup…and I spotted a guy wearing a BBEdit tee shirt.

I dropped my spoon.

Look: BBEdit is a piece of software that you’ve never heard of because it’s only bought by programmers, and _only_ programmers who write a certain kind of software on Macintoshes. And the only other time I’d ever been in that restaurant was about a year earlier, when I was road-tripping with my friend Rich Siegel.

Rich is the guy who _wrote_ BBEdit…and we’d sat in the exact same booth as the guy in the shirt.

When a gobsmacking coincidence like that happens, you’re stunned for a few moments but then you sort of furiously swat away your astonishment like a mosquito. “It was just random chance,” I thought, after cameraphoning a picture to send to Rich.

Before I finished my soup, though, I thought about how useless the word “coincidence” truly is. It’s an answer…but it’s not an explanation. What explanation could there possibly be? “It’s simply coincidence” falsely reassures me that nothing is truly out of the bounds of human experience and understanding, and that my most bedrock assumptions couldn’t possibly be wrong.

For the first time I wondered: _why_ was it so important to me to shout “Random chance!” and close the books?

I started thinking about the light on top of a downtown skyscraper. It steadily blinks out the name of the insurance company that built it fifty years ago. But unless you knew Morse Code, and stood out on the sidewalk a for a mighty long time staring at it, you’d quickly conclude that it’s blinking at random. Your commitment to having _some_ sort of explanation blinds you to a more interesting (and true) discovery.

What might _I_ have been missing out on?

Coincidences are inexplicable. Events preceding the Big Bang, and what, if anything, exists outside the Universe…also inexplicable, for now.

So. We’re surrounded by phenomena and events that appear to us as randomness and chaos. Is it _possible_ that they’re the orderly, linear results of a process so complicated or even so subtle that we’re just not yet equipped to sense it?

I’m not going to suggest that I discovered God’s Plan in a restaurant in Middlebury, Vermont. But I do feel like I now live in a larger and far more wonderful world. I feel that it’s important to be both logical _and_ open-minded. That intellectual security can sometimes smother us.

What I’ve come to believe is that there are some very real and beautiful truths in this universe that will never submit to numbers and proofs and a tidy little understanding. Not unless one day, we’re able to stand on the sidewalk outside of the universe and watch it blink for a mighty long time.

Until then…seriously, try the soup.