On a quiet, sunny Monday at Squaw Valley, on a nearly empty ski slope, I was run over from behind by another skier traveling about 30 miles per hour faster than me. I screamed from the shock as his body slammed into mine. I kept screaming from the pain as the bones in my shoulder shattered from the impact.
It's terrifying when chance reaches out to strike you. Chance is the unknowable event. The bullet fired from miles away that comes through your window. The asteroid traveling through space that somehow finds your planet. These events aren't inexplicable -- they follow cause and effect -- but they are unforeseeable and incomprehensible nonetheless. Money and common sense can guard you against many of the dangers of this world, but nothing can guard you from chance.
When I got home from Tahoe, my wife struggled to work, take care of me, and take care of our two, small children. Then she got the flu. Then I got the flu. Things truly went from bad to worse.
My shoulder broken, sick with fever and pain, I walked down the street to buy soup. A man calmly walked toward me with his pit bull on a leash. A surge of fear shot through my body as I become certain the dog would lunge and bite me.
It didn't. The dog walked by without seeming to notice me. As my breathing slowed down, I realized I was expecting something to hurtle out of nowhere to finish smashing me to pieces. The order of my life had been shown to be provisional and in flux; now, I was terrified it would disintegrate altogether.
The universe has patterns. With our great brains and excellent tools, we glimpse sections of those patterns. Chance is part of the universe's pattern, but it's not a part we understand well. I know a coin tossed in the air has a 50 percent chance of coming down "tails." But there are a whole lot of spinning coins out there in the universe, and I don't know when they're being tossed. Or who's tossing them. Or why.
With a Perspective, I'm Evan Sagerman.
Evan Sagerman is a San Francisco architect and children's book author.