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chances“Einstein said the arrow of time flies in only one direction. Faulkner, being from Mississippi, understood the matter differently. He said the past is never dead; it’s not even past. All of us labor in webs spun long ago before we were born, webs of heredity and environment, of desire and consequence, of history and eternity. Haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken, we pursue images perceived as new but whose provenance dates to the dim dramas of childhood, which are themselves but ripples of consequences echoing down the generations. The quotidian demands of life distract from this resonance of images and events, but some of us feel it always.

And who among us, offered the chance, would not relive the day or hour in which we first knew love, or ecstasy, or made a choice that forever altered our future, negating a life we might have had? Such chances are rarely granted. Memory and grief prove Faulkner right enough, but Einstein knew the finality of action. If I cannot change what I had for lunch yesterday, I certainly cannot unmake a marriage, erase the betrayal of a friend, or board a ship that left port twenty years ago.” — Greg Iles

A week or so back, I watched a program on the history channel which chronicled World Wars I and II. At a point in the narrative, there was mention of an incident which occurred early in WWII, when a young German soldier came face to face with a British soldier. The German was unarmed, and in an odd twist of fate, the British soldier went against all his training, and allowed the German to go free. Under ordinary circumstances, it might have been reason to celebrate – a moment when war was ignored. But in this instance, the man allowed to live was Adolph Hitler.

Even the narrator commented on the passing of a moment that would have changed history, and likely the world as we know it.

For days, it left me thinking of the role chance takes in our life; choices and circumstances that, in retrospect, seem to have adjusted to our path rather than the other way around. Only a fool would dare to believe in something as mundane as coincidence.

“Sometimes I remind myself that I almost skipped the party, that I almost went to a different college, that the whim of a minute could have changed everything and everyone. Our lives, so settled, so specific, are built on happenstance.”

Just last week, my brother posted a picture of my parents to his Facebook page. The photo was taken in the mid 50’s, my dad’s arms wrapped around my mother as they stood at the back of his 55 Chevy. In a conversation with my mother, I told her how much I liked the picture, but my favorite was one that sits on my mantle. The pose is similar, but my parents are standing in the middle of a cemetery, flanked by a tide of blossoms. My mother is pregnant, and filled with grief.

beyondtheseplacesI knew the story. The picture was made the day my grandfather was buried (his birthday) a little more than a month before I was born.

But there was something I didn’t know. In talking about the photo, my mother remarked again at the pain of losing her father; that it left her broken and as if her tears would never dry. She often wondered whether her baby might drown. She said the stress caused me to arrive early. A child expected on November 11th showed up on October 22nd.

Later, I played back over our conversation and wondered how my life might have been different had I been born in November rather than October. I’d have lived my life as a Scorpio instead of Libra. I’d have started school a year later, likely changing the names and faces of lifelong friends. Different schools; different parties. The butterfly changes colors.

But what if I had been born right on time because my grandfather didn’t die in September?

One of my favorite movies (ever) is It’s a Wonderful Life. The story is one of ordinary lives and ordinary failures, and moments strung together to make a remarkable life. In moments, we live (always), stitched into the rope that is time.

Perhaps love is nothing much more than a string of coincidences that somehow become miracles.