Sunday, May 3, 2015

Miracles and other attributions

published 03 May 2015, The Standard

“A miracle!” People exclaim this when something previously thought impossible, or highly improbable, does take place.
We saw a few miracles this week.
Foremost is the stay of the execution of Filipina domestic Mary Jane Veloso in Indonesia. She had said her final goodbyes. There was a coffin waiting for her. Family members had expected to see her next inside a box.
Filipinos as a nation did pray hard that Veloso be given more time to prove her innocence— she claims she is only a victim, not a drug courier. She was duped by somebody whom she trusted, and later on, was not given ample opportunity to explain her case.
There were vigils outside the Indonesian embassy. Petitions to save her life were circulated online. Our top government officials did what they could given the limited time available.
Many went to bed Tuesday night expecting news of the actual execution when they woke up the following morning.
But Mary Jane lived. Out of the nine scheduled to be shot by firing squad, only eight left the island in their pre-assigned coffins. She was given a temporary reprieve after a human rights group talked to the Indonesian President and implored his mercy: Mary Jane was a victim of trafficking.
* * *
In November 2013, residents of an island barangay in Concepcion, Iloilo heard that a powerful typhoon called Yolanda was headed in their direction and that it had wrought utter devastation in other places earlier in the day. They gathered in the middle of the island, bringing everything of importance to them, and huddled near the church. At the hour of danger, they saw a massive cloud being parted in the middle by a great white light. There was devastation in the island but no casualties, and Baliguian was soon referred to as “miracle island.”
Many other anecdotes point us to miracles: an illness cured, a reversal of fortune, a change of heart, or survival of tragic events like an earthquake or a  car crash. The change observed is so drastic that attributing everything to logical cause and effect is not enough.
Hearing about miracles in this day and age can elicit different reactions from different people.
If you are religious, a “miracle” validates your faith in the awesome powers of your god. “Storming the heavens with prayers” is another common phrase. The belief is that just like a child who wants something from her parents—candy, perhaps, or a new pair of shoes—we can pester, (okay, beseech) God with prayers so that he would eventually give in to our request. Among Catholics, there is even a patron saint for impossible/ desperate causes —Saint Jude, whose feast day falls on October 28.
Even if you are not affiliated with any religion, you can still take comfort in “miracles.” Just say you sent a quiet message, not to any god or interceding saint in particular, but to the Universe. The Universe can still respond and you would see your wish coming true. Some would call it grace, or serendipity.
Some kids these days, for instance, have a fixation with 11:11. If you happen to look at your watch, in the morning or at night, and see these four 1s together, close your eyes and utter what you wish for. Feel how badly you want this wish granted. The same goes when one sees a “shooting star” or even a fallen eyelash. Put it on your palm, close your eyes, make a wish, then blow. 
Yet others, the strict logicians, will refuse to attribute anything to any god or universe or even silly superstition. To them, everything that happens can be explained. No miracles, no coincidences, no serendipity even. For example, the 11th-hour reprieve granted to Mary Jane is an aggregate consequence of many things: intercession of the President and Vice President, the meeting with the rights group, the surrender of the alleged trafficker. That nobody on that island died when thousands in other places did may be attributed to the level of disaster preparedness of the local government; the great white light could be the eye of the storm.
Our finite minds will not always be able to know everything that happens and explain every phenomenon. But whether we attribute extraordinary events and simple everyday wishes to the workings of an almighty god, a universe that lets everything fall into perfect place, coincidence, superstition, mathematics of chance, or cold, hard logic, we will never know for sure what it is, anyway.
So why not go with whatever attribution we feel most comfortable with, without assailing others for having their own interpretation of events? For all we know, we can all be right—or all be wrong.

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