It’s the glitch in engineering through which chance
And terror enter on the world.
Robert Hass, from “For Czeslaw Milosz in Krakow”
The evening of last year’s bridge collapse in Minneapolis, I spoke to a good friend who lives there. Thankfully, she called me right as I got home, before I had even seen the news and had time to wonder if she had been on that bridge when it fell. We talked for awhile as she watched the news and learned about the school children that had been involved. Wouldn’t that mess with your head, she said, if you were a kid and you were on a bridge that collapsed? Wouldn’t you then grow up thinking that bridges just collapse sometimes, like this possibility is right up there with other small, unpleasant things, like getting stung by a wasp, or falling and skinning a knee?
In Bill Bryson’s book, A Short History of Nearly Everything, he catalogs the various natural disasters that could cause mass extinctions and wipe out huge swaths of inhabited land on our planet: super volcanoes, collisions with meteors, etc. The amazing thing, he says, is that it doesn’t happen more often.
The truth is, bridges do sometimes collapse. Chance and terror do enter on the world, and there is real danger in things. To get through it, to go on with our lives, we tell ourselves and our children that we feel sure things will work out, because they always have. It’s as good an answer as any. And somehow, it is often true. Mysteriously, things do turn out fine. Most bridges don’t collapse. Large scale disasters do not visit us everyday, and when they do, there are miraculous stories of survival.
To really touch that mystery, it seems necessary to sometimes peel back the veil of the everyday world, to remember the chance and terror inherent in being alive, then to take a deep breath, utter a thank you, and go on living in this amazing, raucous, temporary and beautiful world of ours.