Okay, so as a friend suggested, maybe there have been five not just four miracles, with the most recent miracle having occurred, and ongoing, about three weeks ago. But more on that later. First, a definition of miracle, so we are all clear on what I mean here.
CS Lewis, a popular Christian writer of the twentieth century and still known for his Narnia Chronicles, wrote that “a miracle is something that comes totally out of the blue…” Now, he meant something extremely unlikely, like a virgin female giving birth to a child. Now, apparently, this has been observed at least once in modern times. If you don’t believe it, and can understand the technical language, you can read the following abstract as proof. Then you can decide whether or not virgin birth still counts as a miracle:
Fertil Steril. 1992 Feb;57(2):346-9 .
Chimerism as the etiology of a 46,XX/46,XY fertile true hermaphrodite.
Source: Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Chicago Lying-In Hospital, Illinois.
OBJECTIVE: To determine the conceptional events resulting in a 46,XX/46,XY true hermaphrodite and to report the first pregnancy in a 46,XX/46,XY true hermaphrodite with an ovotestis… (see the rest of the abstract at PubMed)
Another thinker, British mathematician John Edensor Littlewood, suggested in what became known as Littlewood’s Law that statistically individuals should expect one-in-a-million events (“miracles”) to happen to them about once a month. By these calculations, seemingly miraculous events are actually commonplace.
And of course there is the dictionary definition of miracle, which is the one commonly accepted by both religious people who believe in miracles, and those who do not believe in their existence, but who do accept the definition of the word.
–A surprising and welcome event that is not explicable by natural or scientific laws and is considered to be of divine origin
–A highly improbable or extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment
I myself would add a third, and relevant definition, or qualifier, which is “if it occurs in an individual person’s life, the event produces changes, beyond any that could have been imagined prior to the miracle, in a positive direction wholly unexpected and therefore regarded as miraculous.” To be cured from a terminal or crippling illness is of course a miracle. But so too to my way of thinking would be remission from a future-destroying addiction or mental compulsion. Needless to say, complete reversal of a severe mental illness would count as a miracle. And I can think of others that might be counted as less effulgent but just as miraculous.
Given those broader categories of miracles, then, I will proceed to tell you of mine. I do not know what the Course on Miracles is all about, nor anything of the Miracle classes offered online. If there are similarities, I dunno what it means, except that we came up with our thoughts completely independently. I have spoken of the following things as miracles for many years now without any familiarly with the C.O.M or any other such program.
So, onward to my First miracle. (Alas, I fear I will have to deal with the Second Miracle and the Third, Fourth and Fifth in following posts as this one is already getting long enough and will be longer by the time I am finished.) The first miracle concerned, as some readers may remember, plants, wild plants, field botany, in short, the wonders of the wild green world. But not just that, no, it was the discovery in myself, utterly unanticipated, of a bizarre and wonderful ability to simply know, almost without any idea how I knew it, any plant I came across. In fact, I must have seen them, if briefly, in some plant book or field guide, but it was truly uncanny, my ability to instantly recognize and categorize whole families and genera and then the species within them just by casually looking at any plant, flower or tree I saw, having but glanced at a simple sketch or pencil drawing of a plant the night or even a week before seeing it in the wild.
I once wrote about this miracle in my first blog at http://www.schizophrenia.com. Although the essay has a less than happy ending that has nothing to do with miracles, I will reprint the essay in its entirety here. Suffice it to say that the pivotal moment, the chairotic moment and miracle that surrounds “Prunella,” which I describe early in the piece, changed my life forever.
WILDFLOWERS ON THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
Thirty years ago, I took the natural history course purely for exercise. I figured, what better way to stay in shape than to get credit for it? At the time, I couldn’t tell a maple from an oak, let alone one old weed from another, and it wouldn’t be easy. But just to keep off the flab would be a benefit in its own right. Since the prospectus promised daily field trips, no mention of love or awe or wonder, the last thing I expected was a miracle.
Showing up for the first day’s trip, I wore old tennis shoes of the thin-canvas Keds variety. I had no idea L.L. Bean’s half-rubber hiking boots were de rigueur for a course of this kind. What god-awful-ugly shoes just to walk in the woods! I thought in horror. Right then, I realized I’d made a huge mistake and it was too late to change my mind — I’d have to stick it out for the whole semester. I knew for sure I was going to be more miserable getting “exercise” than I ever would have with my thighs turning to mush, safe in the college library.
The teacher, Miss G, took off stomping down the path and we tramped on after her. I was last, straggling behind, half-hoping to get lost so at least I could head back to civilization. Before we’d gotten far, she halted, peering intently at something near her feet. She waited for us to catch up and gather round her, then pointed at a weed. “Heal-all. Prunella vulgaris,” she announced sternly and without passion. “Vulgaris means ‘common.’ Learn names of both genus and species. Be forewarned, ‘Heal-all’ by itself will not be an adequate answer on your quizzes.”
She stepped aside so we could take a better look. As instructed, one by one the class dutifully wrote down a description and the two names we’d been given. I was still at the back, waiting my turn without the least enthusiasm, let alone the anticipation of what, in those days, we called a “mind-blowing” experience.
“Come on, now, don’t be shy. Step up and look for yourself,” Miss G scolded me, pushing at my elbow to propel me closer.
Finally the clump of students cleared out and I had a better view. For some reason, I found myself actually kneeling in front of the weed to look at it close up. Then it happened. As if the proverbial light bulb flashed on over my head, I understood what Miss G meant when she’d said: “Weeds are only wildflowers growing where they aren’t wanted.”
Prunella, I know now, is no more than a common mint, found in poorly manicured lawns or waste ground. Yet, with its conical head of iridescent purple-lipped flowers and its square stem – on impulse, I’d reached out to touch it and discovered an amazing fact: the stem wasn’t round! – Heal-all was the single most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. The world went still. There was only me and the flower and the realization I’d fallen in love.
Since one of my other courses concerned the history of early Christianity, I knew immediately what had happened. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, I’d been struck by unexpected lightning. I’d been converted. I put away my notebook, knowing I didn’t need to write down a word, knowing I’d never forget “common Prunella” as long as I lived.
There were other miracles in my life after that, but none came close to the thunderbolt that knocked me flat the afternoon I saw, truly saw, that homely little mint for the first time. “Sedges have edges and rushes are round and grasses have nodes where willows abound.” Yes, I learned such mnemonics, which helped me as much as the next person when a plant was hard to identify. But I discovered in myself an amazing feel for botany that was like sunken treasure thousands of feet beneath the ocean. Once I knew it was there, I had merely to plumb the depths, more or less unconsciously, and gold would magically appear.
I went walking in the woods every chance I got and carried Peterson’s guides with me even into town, checking out the most inconspicuous snippets of green that poked through the sidewalk cracks. The first time I came out with a certain plant’s genus and species before Miss G told the class what we were seeing, she looked at me oddly. I began repeating this performance until once she even allowed me to argue her into changing her classification of a tricky species. If I still hung back behind the group as we walked, it was no longer from reluctance. I was simply too entranced, looking at each tree, to keep up the pace.
By December, as the semester was coming to a close, Miss G had begun using me as her unofficial assistant, asking my opinion whenever there was a question as to what was before us. Oh, I confess, I never did get the knack of birds. It was the trees and wildflowers that stole my heart entire.
At the end of the semester, we received course evaluations in lieu of letter grades. I opened mine eagerly, expecting praise. Instead, Miss G was terse and unenthusiastic: “Pamela faithfully attended every field trip, but for most of the course she failed to share her insights and established expertise with the rest of the class.” End quote. “Failed to share her established expertise“? What was she talking about? Did she think I’d already known everything she taught us? How could she not understand what she’d done for me, introducing me to little Prunella, how I’d learned everything I knew after that moment, not before?
It was the worst evaluation I’d ever gotten, the injustice of which struck me to the marrow. I went to her office to explain and found a sign on her door saying she’d been called away on a family emergency and would not be returning until the next semester. But I wasn’t returning for the second semester. I was transferring back to my original school.
I caught my ride home, spending four hours crammed into the back of an old Volkswagen bug with two other students, wordless with indignation that replayed and reverberated through my mind. How could she think such a thing? I couldn’t stop writing a letter of protest in my head as the highway flowed endlessly beneath us.
I did write Miss G, finally, explaining all she’d awoken in me, emphasizing the magic I’d discovered in her class, my new-found joy and amazement. At the end of March I got a reply, but no apology, no hint that she understood she’d misunderstood. Not even appreciation for my gratitude towards her and what her course had done for me. Just a brisk, no-nonsense note, little better than a form letter. I had the impression that she didn’t quite remember who I was, that I was just another faceless student writing to her about a natural history course she’d taught perhaps forty times in her long career as a teacher.
Whether she knew who I was or even recognized what she’d done for me mattered little in the end. What did matter was that when I met homely little Prunella, I discovered the whole world in a common weed.
©Pamela Spiro Wagner, 2004
The next posts, or in the following weeks, I hope to cover the other four miracles. If you are interested in them, and I fail to follow through, feel free to “goose” me with a reminder. My mind is a sieve and I rarely remember anything without a string tied to my thumb! 8D