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Holidays Give Us Time to Reflect on Impossibilities Like You

December 26th, 2019 by dk

Holiday seasons bring most of our usual concerns to a standstill. Commuting is less of a bother. Rush hour passes with fewer people rushing. For this brief time, spreadsheets are out and bread feasts are in.

The slower pace invites reflection. Contemplation should consider bigger thoughts — those that won’t fit so easily into the hurly-burly of everyday life.

Some traditions entertain impossibly large ideas. We call them miracles, but don’t let that distract you from their modern relevance. They serve to enlarge our imagination, defying the limits we usually find necessary. It’s not easy to navigate a world full of unknowns, so we tend to avoid the unknowable. It saves time.

For all those reasons, when you have extra time, you should take it. Behold, the ubiquity of impossibilities.

Never mind our Goldilocks planet with oxygen to breathe and water to drink, generously hosting trillions of carbon-based organisms for millions of years. The chances of that are minuscule, but we needed only one.

Or the miracle of our mind, which probably leaves our particular type of organism alone with the opportunity — and the need — to reflect on it all. Whether you take all this to mean you’re lucky or loved hardly matters, so long as you take it. Breathe it. Drink it.

You’re special. And so is everyone else.

Claudius Ptolemy was incorrect when he placed humanity at the center of the known universe, but the Greek astronomer wasn’t completely wrong.

Scientists today place us — you and me and 7.6 billion other humans — at a midpoint between near-infinite complexities. Our Milky Way galaxy has at least 100 billion stars. The Hubble space telescope has so far detected at least 100 billion galaxies beyond ours.

I’m not a big believer in round numbers, but 100 billion seems to be the scale of circles that scientists are drawing to understand the world. They estimate there are slightly more than 100 billion mammals walking the earth right now. A Medievalist would be proud of the symmetry.

Each mammal hosts a population of microscopic bacteria that have co-evolved within each one of those warm-blooded bodies. Bacteria facilitate digestion, expel waste, and maintain healthy cells. A typical human body contains — wait for it — approximately 100 billion of these little worker mites. They form your microbiome and you couldn’t survive without them.

I wouldn’t be surprised if scientists someday delineate all the variables inside and between these industrious bacteria, finding another circle of 100 billion possibilities at the molecular or atomic level.

Ptolemy was wrong. The universe doesn’t revolve around us. But Ptolemy was also right. Considering the vast and intricate realities beyond and within us, we’ve been given the best seat in town. We’re somewhere near the middle of unending layers of discovered complexities.

I know it doesn’t always feel that way, when you’re balancing your checkbook or rotating your tires. That’s exactly why you should take these moments to ponder it. Because it’s always true — lucky or loved — whether you feel it or not.

Mathematically speaking, you mark the spot between twin awesomenesses. So, you know what that makes you?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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