One in a million

Sophie Wilcox

I believe that mundanity is merely one interaction away from a miracle. 

 

John Littlewood was a Cambridge University academic who dedicated his life to studying probability. Littlewood was drawn to the abstract likelihood of extraordinary events occurring in daily life. Hours of work led him to establish “Littlewoods Law”, which would later be called “the Law of Miracles”.  

 

The math behind Miracles is more straightforward than one expects. The law is based on the assumption that every day, you are actively paying attention for roughly eight hours while experiencing life at a rate of one event a second. Adding up the numbers, you should experience almost 30,000 events per day, and over the course of nearly one month, you should witness over 1 million.

 

So, statistically, every month you should experience a miracle. – an event so extraordinary that it only occurs one in a million times.

 

When you’re young, extraordinary experiences contribute more to happiness, but as you age, you find more beauty in the little things. What bridges this gap is the story you tell yourself: how you frame an event is how much joy it’ll bring you. Every day and every moment is not extraordinary; how you choose to view the mundane parts of everyday life is how you’ll find a joy that is similar to that of the extraordinary. It is how you’ll find a joy that closely resembles what we deem miraculous. 

 

Experiences I see as miracles from the past year: 

September 28th, 2021

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I was sipping on an iced oat milk vanilla latte while attempting to finish my assignment. I decided to divert from my usual routine and try out a new study spot on a whim. My surroundings were comforting, yet unfamiliar. The ambient noises of a coffee shop flooded my ears: espresso machines dripping softly, the bell announcing the arrival of the next customer, awkward snippets of conversations at the table to my left. My attention was brought to the entrance again when the bell on the front door rang. Entering the cafe was a familiar figure. I felt the hairs on my arm jumping in excitement, and memories flooded back as soon as I heard her speak. The voice ordering allowed memories to flood through my mind. I could remember the two of us sharing the deepest of belly laughs at dance competitions, bugging our parents endlessly for sleepovers, and watching late night movies at said sleepovers. What could have been just another customer turned out to be a girl I had known my whole life. She was my childhood best friend who I hadn't seen in years. We stood up at the sight of one another and embraced in a hug. Out of all the coffee shops in Durham, I ended up running into this very special person on this very random day in September. 

July 27th, 2021

After the best weekend in New Orleans, my commute home was longer and more exhausting than I anticipated. After several delays and cancellations, endless crowds of commuters, and what felt like the millionth gate change, I finally squeezed through an endless crowd of impatient flyers and sat myself down on the ground in front of the concierge desk. To pass the time during this perpetual series of events, I pulled out a book from my backpack hoping to lose myself in its fictional world. After flipping through a few pages, I lost focus as my attention was pulled towards the strangers around me. Looking around at my fellow New Orleans to RDU passengers my eyebrows raised in disbelief. Sitting right across from me was an older woman holding in her hands an identical book cover to the one I was holding up. There it was: the same atching red and gold lettering on a tan background sitting in the hands of a complete stranger. We finally acknowledged each other, a soft smile and a nod was exchanged after the realization and nothing more. A few hours later, as it was time to board our flight finally, the woman collected her belongings and waited in line to board the plane. We exchanged the shortest of conversations in line, but I still think about that day. Even though we are all living our own days, our own life, our own story, we are still connected to each other in miraculous ways.

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June 25th, 2021

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My legs were shot, completely obliterated after a 13 mile hike that morning up Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton National Park. Objectively that hike was the best, the scariest, and the most rewarding outdoor excursion I’ve embarked on. Needless to say, I was planning on doing nothing for the rest of the day. After a long period of resting and refueling, my 10th hummus and veggie sandwich of the trip consumed, a 2 hour nap on a subpar bed, and an inevitable fight with my brother out of sheer exhaustion, I couldn’t let one of the last nights of this trip go to waste. I hoisted my family out of our hibernation to catch the sunset over the Tetons one last time. As our irritation from the sheer length and difficulty of the hike wore off, we had an evening I will never forget. We laughed about the day’s events, laughed at my brother complaining about walking 0.25 more miles to watch the sunset, and laughed at my dad accidentally breaking the seal of the bear spray. But most importantly, we cherished each other’s company. Detached from our phones, from work, from school, from the “real world”, these 30 minutes I spent with my family that evening sure were miraculous. 

In reality, Littleton did not find the mathematical solution to miracles. In fact, his work was done to make fun of the notion of miracles in everyday life. I’d argue he was never truly interested in the wonder and marvel around us in the world. His studies proved that these miraculous events are not phenomenal at all, but merely coincidences. He believed that since these so-called miracles are such a common occurrence, that there is nothing special in these odd-defying moments. 

 

I believe this is where he was wrong. Just because these extra special moments are supposed to happen every month, does not mean they are any less deserving of recognition and gratitude. 

 

Littleton failed to appreciate the beauty of the ordinary life around him. This lack of appreciation allowed him to overlook the intricate delicacy of our reality. How one single decision could’ve been made differently and consequently changed the outcome of that moment. How reading a different book would’ve caused a missed connection with a stranger. How not forcing my family out of hibernation would’ve caused a missed undivided 30 minutes with them on one of our last trips before I moved to college. How not choosing to break my routine would’ve kept me from reconnecting with a childhood friend. 

 

The Law of Miracles does not guarantee miraculous events occurring every 30 days like clockwork. So, maybe we need to redefine what we deem miraculous. But when a miracle does happen to grace our presence, we have no choice but to appreciate it. It is up to your discretion, only you have the power to frame the moments in your life, miraculous or not, in whichever way you see fit. I implore you to work on reframing the mundane into something far greater as learning how to embrace the humdrum of daily life has provided me with a new balance and perspective that my life was once lacking.