Your First Miracle

Image: 'Israel-05625 - Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend,' by Dennis Jarvis on Flickr

[Image: “Israel-05625 – Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend,” by Dennis Jarvis; found it on Flickr, of course, and use it here under a Creative Commons license (thank you!)]

From whiskey river:

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. The potential people who could have been here in my place but who will in fact never see the light of day outnumber the sand grains of Arabia. Certainly those unborn ghosts include greater poets than Keats, scientists greater than Newton. We know this because the set of possible people allowed by our DNA so massively exceeds the set of actual people. In the teeth of these stupefying odds it is you and I, in our ordinariness, that are here…

This is another respect in which we are lucky. The universe is older than a hundred million centuries. Within a comparable time the sun will swell to a red giant and engulf the earth. Every century of hundreds of millions has been in its time, or will be when its time comes, “the present century.” Interestingly, some physicists don’t like the idea of a “moving present,” regarding it as a subjective phenomenon for which they find no house room in their equations. But it is a subjective argument I am making. How it feels to me, and I guess to you as well, is that the present moves from the past to the future, like a tiny spotlight, inching its way along a gigantic ruler of time. Everything behind the spotlight is in darkness, the darkness of the dead past. Everything ahead of the spotlight is in the darkness of the unknown future. The odds of your century being the one in the spotlight are the same as the odds that a penny, tossed down at random, will land on a particular ant crawling somewhere along the road from New York to San Francisco. In other words, it is overwhelmingly probable that you are dead.

In spite of these odds, you will notice that you are, as a matter of fact, alive. People whom the spotlight has already passed over, and people whom the spotlight has not reached, are in no position to read a book… What I see as I write is that I am lucky to be alive and so are you.

(Richard Dawkins [source])

and:

Horses Explain Things to Me

Today is a crash course on moving gently.
How to take a gift from someone so gingerly
they believe they still have it. If you move
soft enough through the wind or woods,
they say the sun will make a space for you.
Some of your regrets might soften. I move
terribly. I crush twigs and spiders but the horses
say nothing of it; they let me pet their long manes.
I hop on and we walk out to the end of wanting.
What is God? I ask them. They tell me, Yes.

(Brett Elizabeth Jenkins [source])

Not from whiskey river:

Family Album

I like old photographs of relatives
in black and white, their faces set like stone.
They knew this was serious business.
My favorite album is the one that’s filled
with people none of us can even name.

I find the recent ones more difficult.
I wonder, now, if anyone remembers
how fiercely I refused even to stand
beside him for this picture—how I shrank
back from his hand and found the other side.

Forever now, for future family,
we will be framed like this, although no one
will wonder at the way we are arranged.
No one will ever wonder, since we’ll be
forever smiling there—our mouths all teeth.

(Diane Thiel [source])

…and:

Don’t You Wonder, Sometimes?
(excerpt)

1.

After dark, stars glisten like ice, and the distance they span
Hides something elemental. Not God, exactly. More like
Some thin-hipped glittering Bowie-being—a Starman
Or cosmic ace hovering, swaying, aching to make us see.
And what would we do, you and I, if we could know for sure

That someone was there squinting through the dust,
Saying nothing is lost, that everything lives on waiting only
To be wanted back badly enough? Would you go then,
Even for a few nights, into that other life where you
And that first she loved, blind to the future once, and happy?

Would I put on my coat and return to the kitchen where my
Mother and father sit waiting, dinner keeping warm on the stove?
Bowie will never die. Nothing will come for him in his sleep
Or charging through his veins. And he’ll never grow old,
Just like the woman you lost, who will always be dark-haired

And flush-faced, running toward an electronic screen
That clocks the minutes, the miles left to go. Just like the life
In which I’m forever a child looking out my window at the night sky
Thinking one day I’ll touch the world with bare hands
Even if it burns.

(Tracy K. Smith [source])

…and:

Each person’s complete family tree […] is shaped more or less like a diamond. In the beginning, it expands upward from the person in an inverted triangle. At some point, hundreds of years back, the rate of expansion reaches its maximum and the pedigree starts to narrow, eventually coming to a point at a theoretical first couple…

The demographer Kenneth W. Wachter has created a simple probability model for the progenitors of an English child born in 1947. The child would have more than sixty thousand progenitors in the generation born at the time America was discovered, and ninety-five per cent of the slots on that tier of his pedigree would still be filled by different people. At the twentieth generation — around the time of John Wycliffe and the Peasants’ Revolt — he would have roughly six hundred thousand progenitors, with a third of the slots filled by duplicates. Just before the Black Death, thirty per cent of England’s estimated population of three million six hundred and fifty thousand would be his progenitors. Around the time of King John, the widest point of his pedigree, with about two million different progenitors along a horizontal line, would be reached. Then the pedigree would start to narrow. At that point, each progenitor would be filling an average of sixteen slots, and the child would be descended from eighty per cent of the people in England.

(Alex Shoumatoff [source])

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