Our lives are largely determined by encounters, whether in arranged meetings, or by the whims of chance. I wrote this little poem many years ago, when I was still unhappily single:
All my life I’ll cherish
So much I can’t forget –
The things that didn’t happen,
And the girls I never met.
There have, of course, been some famous meetings that did happen, although circumstances made them extremely unlikely. Probably best known was that of Stanley and Livingstone in 1872, in what was then still an extremely dark part of central Africa. The details, though widely celebrated at the time, have mostly been forgotten. But everybody today still knows, and many of us quote, the first words which were reportedly spoken on that occasion: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume.” The reporter, and speaker, was Henry Morton Stanley, an actual newspaper reporter who had been assigned by the New York Herald to “Find Livingstone.” David Livingstone, himself a celebrated explorer, had not been heard from for six years. The miracle is that, after two years of searching by Stanley, the meeting ever actually took place.
But for us, the most important meetings are surely those which involve a sperm getting together with an egg. If that didn’t happen – and keep happening all over the world – there’d be no happy birthdays, or even unwanted ones. It takes no bold analyst to state, without knowing you any more than I do, that such an event occurred sometime after your father met your mother, and that your whole lifetime is traceable back to what for you was obviously that momentous meeting.
Momentous or not, much modern biological science has been devoted to methods of preventing such meetings from ever taking place, except under conditions which are acceptable to those people involved. Realistic terms to describe those methods tend to be hidden under euphemisms like “Birth Control” and “Planned Parenthood.” They come more pleasantly to the ear than “spermicide” and “abortion” and similar expressions.
So let’s consider meetings of a different kind, such as human encounters with the divine, or even with the Almighty, as narrated in the Old Testament. This brings us to a man named Moses, who may or may not ever have lived – since apparently, outside the Bible itself (the first five books of which he is reputed to have written) there are no contemporaneous references to the whole grand saga of which Moses is the hero. But the story is too thrilling for us to be misled by the facts. Imagine a whole refugee People encamped at the foot of a mountain (Sinai) and their leader going up the mountain to meet with God, accompanied by such appropriate special effects as fire and smoke, thunder and lightning. (I know this sounds as if it were written for a movie – but the movie came much later.)
As evidence of this encounter, Moses descends Sinai bearing the actual words of God – in the form of laws, or commandments. Subsequently there are many occasions in which Moses acts as a transmitter of holy messages, and a general intermediary with the Divine. There is much talk about a Promised Land and a Chosen People. As someone wrote not so long ago,
How odd of God
To choose the Jews.
But, chosen or not, Moses never gets to that Promised Land. His meetings with God do not confer immortality.
Let me therefore conclude on a more secular note, by telling you about the most important meeting of my own life, which led to my 51-year marriage:
In 1966 I somehow held the position of Academic Coordinator for the Seven Seas Division of Chapman University in Orange, California. My duties included processing applicants for faculty positions on board the “Floating Campus” – a converted cruise ship which was making three-and-a-half month educational voyages around the world. One person I had to interview was a woman in her 30s, who didn’t much impress me, except that she was very enthusiastic. In this case, however, I had little choice; she had already taught, apparently satisfactorily, on the voyage which had just concluded. But hiring her meant that she would be on the next voyage, which I myself was scheduled to teach on.
So she got hired. It was a large ship, and we didn’t see much of each other at first. But she somehow found out that I was a lover of chocolate, of which she happened to have a large supply.
Need I say more?