Tribune reporter Joshua H. Silavent found that out a few weeks ago while snowboarding. He was on the slopes having a grand time when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a wayward skier careening in his direction. The two collided, sending our fearless reporter tumbling across the snow, smacking his head several times and breaking his collarbone.
Being an experienced and cautious snowboarder, Silavent was wearing a helmet so his brain came through the incident with no more damage than it had before. He knew right away, however, that his collarbone was not in one piece and that he had likely seen the end of his snowboarding for this season.
When he returned to the office this week and recounted the tale over and over for the benefit of each co-worker, our discussion turned to the sheer dumb luck of his unfortunate encounter with the other skier. A whole chain of events in each party’s day led up to their being in the same spot at the same second, and traveling at the speeds they were it was even more unlikely that they would be in the same place at the same time.
Every movement, every decision they each made that day led them to the site of the crash. A slight pause or turn in their route on the slope, a moment’s hesitation or acceleration here or there and the whole thing would have been avoided. Even before they took to the hill, their decision to stop for a second cup of coffee or those extra few moments in the shower all added up the time and trajectory it took to arrive in each other’s path. Of course, we could trace each of their steps all the way back to the womb but I don’t feel like writing that much today.
In each of our lives and in the history of the world, there are plenty of those split-second, quarter-inch happenings that changed everything, and a few that changed nothing but still stick in our minds.
For example, my mother’s favorite story of my birth is that I weighed 8 pounds 7 ounces, was born on the date 8-7 at 8:08 p.m. Despite her pleas, she couldn’t convince the nurse to change the time to 8:07 p.m. If I had been a bit faster, my mother’s story would be complete.
Many years before I burst upon the scene, my mother was adopted as an infant by my grandparents. If she hadn’t been born at quite the right time or if her paperwork at the adoption agency was shuffled up or down the list in the slightest, how would her life and mine been different? She might never have given birth to me and had to ask the nurse to change the time of my delivery.
After graduating college in 1994, I had a summer internship/job at a newspaper in Wisconsin. As the summer came to an end, I had to think about finding a permanent job. I lobbied to get hired there, but a job offer in California came through first. What if my offer in Wisconsin had come just a day earlier, or the offer in California a day later? I could be a cheese head today instead of a true blue Nevadan.
Four years ago through the miracle of the Internet, I met my current girlfriend. There are thousands of online daters in the northern Nevada area I could have chosen, but her humor and a beautiful picture made me choose her. If she had used a different photograph or worded her profile just a little differently, would my finger have kept scrolling on the mouse, my cursor clicking on the name above or below hers? We might never have met, which would be a sad thing indeed.
These things go far beyond personal experience. Some happenstances affect us across the county and world. In 2000, for example, the state of Florida had to recount its votes in the presidential election in the infamous “hanging chad” incident. What if just a few voters had punched their cards a little harder or read the voting instructions carefully? Or what if the registrar of voters there had picked a different paper stock to make the cards? The entire decade would have been more Gore and less gory.
Going back in presidential history, what if John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald had aimed a little to the left or a little to the right? How would America’s history be different?
In more important subject areas, if the timing had been a fraction of a second off for Kirk Gibson, Dwight Clark, Bobby Thompson or Lynn Swann, how would the history of sports be different?
Speaking universally, what if the asteroid that supposedly hit the Earth and killed all the dinosaurs had drifted a few hundred miles in a different direction? Humans might be eating brontosaurus burgers and pterodactyl hot wings at the sports bars right now.
You get my point. Reflecting on these things can be filled with gratitude or regret, depending on the outcome. I guess it all comes down to whether we fear the possible outcomes of each decision or look forward to them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to get another cup of coffee and then see what happens.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.