The English language fascinates me. Its ability to adopt words from other languages or to modify meanings over time makes it rich and complex yet remarkably flexible. However, this is not always an advantage. The meanings of words become distorted by popular usage. An extreme example of such a distortion was when a weatherman used the phrase "gradually plummeted" to describe a temperature drop in the course of a day.
One word in particular which has been altered by popular usage is "miracle." A miracle should describe an event that would be impossible without intervention from some supernatural agent or power. In today's usage, this is not necessarily so. The word miracle is constantly used for events that may be amazing and extraordinary but which are well within the limits of possibility. Even the phrase "miracle of birth" is used to describe an event that is totally natural and normal. The media, too, is pushing miracles with headlines and TV spots whose titles have the resounding theme: "Miracles -- Whether you believe in them or not, they are here!" Considering the way the word is commonly used today, maybe this is true. Perhaps we should rethink what we call a miracle.
Seemingly impossible events, such as an icon weeping or the sun pulsating in the sky, have yielded to explanations of fraud and people's retinas reacting to staring at an intense light. These types of miracles turned out not to be what they were built up to be. On the other hand, a few years ago, a policeman woke up from a several year coma. This event received a lot of attention and the media used the word "miracle" liberally to describe this recovery. As truly unusual as this situation was, being in a coma is not the same as being diagnosed brain dead. People can wake up from a coma. Brain death is very different. It is confirmed by performing three successive electoencephalograms (EEG) to check for brain activity and by checking reactions to several types of stimuli including noise and having ice water squirted into the ears. No one ever properly diagnosed as being brain dead has ever woken up from this state. That would be a supernatural miracle.
It seems that for the general public, there are only two crucial elements which make an event a miracle. These are that the event be beneficial and it be extremely unlikely. Under these terms, I would readily admit that miracles happen all the time. As a matter of fact, they happen so frequently that it would be tedious and pointless to keep track of them. The only miracles worth investigating would be the ones alleging that there has been a supernatural component involved.
Perhaps miracles are just a matter of perspective. The fact that someone will win the lottery is not a miracle. Although several weeks could go by without a winner, as the jackpot continues to grow, eventually someone will win that multi-million dollar prize. If the winner happens to be a widowed mother of a very ill child, the press will be quick to label this event a miracle. Had this same prize been won by a rich lawyer or doctor, the label would probably be withheld.
Recovery from horrible diseases is a rich territory that cultivates miracles. Consider a type of cancer that, in terms of statistics, is fatal 99 out of 100 times. Although 1% of those afflicted will survive, this recovery would appear to be a miracle. Had any of those who recovered been using an alternative healthcare system or a special magical rite during the course of their treatment, then that method would be hailed as a "miracle" cure.
Amazing cures, lottery pay-offs and people walking away from major car accidents without a scratch are bound to happen. The press and the general public routinely call these events miracles. What about the flip-side? I think the public should be just as willing to accept the concept of an anti-miracle. An anti-miracle is a detrimental event which is extremely unlikely. In their own way, anti-miracles are just as common as miracles but they are just not labeled as such. Anti-miracles could include many misfortunes ranging from the sad to the bizarre. Large objects, such as a piano, falling several stories and landing on someone; a person stumbling and getting lodged in a well; a misstep that places someone in front of an assassin's bullet intended for a high-profile politician. These are just a fraction of what could be considered an anti-miracle. Bystanders tend to be the victims of a lot of anti-miracles.
Miracles and anti-miracles are sometimes separated by slight quirks of circumstance. A tractor-trailer is speeding down the interstate during the evening rush hour. A tire pops off the truck in the northbound lane, bounces over the road divider and into oncoming south-bound traffic. It bounces over and between ten cars, finally coming to a stop at the far side of the road. A miracle! On a different day, another tire goes over the divider and through the windshield of an oncoming car killing the passengers. An anti-miracle. The same initial event with different outcomes.
Sometimes miracle and anti-miracles are mixed into the same event. The probability of being in a fatal car accident is much greater than that of being in an airplane crash. When you consider the odds of actually picking a flight that crashes, you would have to call it an anti-miracle. A few years ago an airliner crashed in New York and all aboard were killed except for a toddler. As rescuers searched through the wreckage, it turns out that the child was saved by her mother's selfless act. The child was found on the floor of the plane covered by the mother's body, sparing the child from the flames after the crash. It was billed a miracle in the middle of a big tragedy. Possibly a more accurate description would be a miracle amongst hundreds of anti-miracles.
Yes, I will readily admit that miracles happen all of the time. The new headline should be "Anti-miracles: Whether you believe in them or not, they are here!"
"Miracles do not happen? It's a miracle if they don't."