Friday, June 3, 2016

Belief and Knowledge

Yann Martel's Life of Pi is a fantastical story, or not. It depends on which story we choose.

Young Pi and his family leave India to start a new life and build a new zoo in Canada. Their ship is a menagerie of zoo animals. When the boat blows up and sinks, Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a tiger.

When the story ends, the survivor Pi, retells the boat insurance investigators his imagined story, or the true story. When they question the facts, he gives them an alternative story, a more believable story.  As readers, we are left in a quandary and must choose which story to believe.

The fantastical story of Pi and the tiger living in survival harmony is the better story. It is less logical, but nonetheless, the better story. The alternative story of cannibalism is rough, shows the worst of mankind, and it's the story no one really wants to believe.

We choose to believe or not. Sometimes it is the least logical story--and so it is with religion and miracles.

Last night, Tony, Mom and I watched The Cokeville Miracles. At the core of the movie was the protagonist who fought whether or not to believe or choose the better story--the story that was illogical, the story his heart wanted to believe, the story the children hostages told.

Cokeville Wyoming in 1987 was populated by 200 people. A former and disillusioned man returned, rigged himself to a homemade bomb and took over the elementary school. The bomb went off, but not one child or adult was harmed. The criminal and his wife both died. A few days after the incident, children started telling their parents that angels were in the school room with them. Many recognized from old photos that the visitors in white were grandparents or a great grandma or great aunt. Children said they were led by the hand, told to stand by the window and reassured that all would be well.

When the bomb detonated, it should have spread throughout the school; instead, the force was taken straight up--and according to the children, by angels.

I believe the story. I choose to believe the story.

Yesterday, after an afternoon of lunch and shopping with three of my daughters and my mom, we traveled home on a crowded freeway. I was the driver, Mom was in the front passenger street, and my oldest daughter sat in the back. I needed to take an exit I was unfamiliar with and waited for my daughter's instructions. She told me to move into the right lane for the upcoming exit. It was the better move as it was traffic-clear and we could have moved from our slower lane--but a stupor of thought overcame me, and I didn't move over. I still had time, so it wasn't urgent--but I didn't move, but I did keep my eye on the lane.

Within five seconds of when I could have followed my daughter's instructions, I could see in the far right lane, red brake lights, a hit, another car jerk onto the shoulder, another hit, and a car speeding by to my right. Stop, slow down, my panicked thoughts willed the blue truck,--but it didn't, and we all watched it slam into the car in front of it.

"That would have been us if you'd moved into the exit lane," my daughter said.

It would have been.

This time, I didn't need to choose whether or not to believe we had been protected.

This time, I knew.