Recollection of a Purported Miracle

I remember as a young man of twelve or so that one day (during the summer I believe) someone in town had seen the Virgin Mary in a live oak tree. This was naturally of great interest (what else is there to do on a hot day) so after some familial hemming and hawing I went with my mother and sister (I think my sister was there, but I am not certain). The tree was in a small field in town, and it was crowded with people; my memory is far from perfect, but I suspect that almost one hundred persons were present.

I looked into the tree, and after ten minutes or so of searching I did indeed see a likeness of the Mary one might see in a church, head inclined downward and to the side slightly, with hands at her sides and palms turned upward. I do not now, and did not then, consider it to be miraculous.

About ten minutes later, after watching a few others examine the tree, the police arrived and determined to cut down the offending section of the tree to prevent whatever idiocy they thought might result from people staring at a tree in the middle of the day. We left before the cutting began.

I do not recall being overly concerned with the fate of the tree or impressed with the quality of the purported miracle. I do recall being entirely disturbed by the thought that people were going to be very upset and possibly angry about the tree being cut. The idea that people would harm one another over such a stupid thing distressed me, and I realized that although I was not convinced that the police were correct in their actions, it was nevertheless inevitable that they would seek to exert control over the situation in whatever form they could, simply because that is the nature of police forces everywhere.

There was no way to predict this apparition, no way to prevent people from believing in it, and no way to prevent the police from interceding. There was a possibility of violence, then, for absolutely no reason at all. The only thing which might have prevented it would have been the discretion of the first individual: if they had thought that it was merely an amusing coincidence (which it was) then they could have gone on their way and nothing would have happened.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as retroactive rationality when it comes to a crowd of humans.

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