Surreal Improbability

An image of something highly improbably

Early yesterday morning I went for a walk. Among the things I thought about during that walk was a point I’ve talked about with my son in the past, that–taking the wide view–everything that happens is statistically impossible.

The current state of the universe, the earth, down to the position of any given atom, has been dependent on so many events since the beginning of time, that the math required to even talk about the odds would be beyond the imagination. Just the odds you would be born with the genetic configuration you have are inconceivably small.

I thought maybe I would make a post about that point but I did not know how to frame it.

I finished my walk and I went to the store. It is a small grocery store I have been to many times before. As I walked in, something happened to me that has never happened there, or anywhere else, to my recollection. Have you ever been walking along and passed through a small area that seemed to be a different temperature? Well I walked through an area about 6 feet long in this store that seemed to be in a different time. A time 32 years in the past to be exact.

It started with a smell. I recognized it. And then recognition became something much more shocking to me. I was back in the place where I first smelled that smell: a small grocery store I had worked at when I was 16 years old. For a couple seconds, I was 16 years old again and I was coming into work to start my day. Even my emotions were those of that moment in 1979. It was a twilight zone moment.

I paused a few seconds. And then I went about my errand in the store. When I came to the counter, I had an impulse to mention what I had experienced. I did not have time to deeply consider how strange it might sound, but I threw caution to the wind and just told the cashier what I had experienced. She looked a little stunned. I said I thought the produce aisle and some other attributes unique to small grocery stores like this must have triggered the recollection. I think I mentioned that I had not thought of that store in over 20 years.

The cashier, a kindly lady, older than me, said “Where was this?” I told her “Medina.” Medina, Ohio is a small town that is 60 miles from the small town where we are standing. And she said, “I worked at that store.”

Now I was stunned. I repeated the name of the store and the place and I asked when. She said, “right around 32 years ago, now that you mention it. Up until 1978.” I had worked there, if memory serves, in 1979, perhaps into 1980. She named the managers, and their images popped into my head. She was not putting me on.

Remarks of amazement were exchanged.

I picked up my groceries and went home. I was especially struck by how close I had come to not mentioning the odd flashback at all. Had I not, the minuscule anomaly of that moment would have been quickly forgotten.

This experience was unique in its particulars, but the surreal improbability of it was not unique. Things happen with an unaccountable frequency that are so odd, yet somehow seemingly deeply meaningful, unlikelihoods stacked so high one on top of another, that I get a visceral sense that I am experiencing the impossibly unlikely–the impossible.

In the language of people with experience with lucid dreams, waking reality fails a reality check.

Does that ever happen to you?

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