On a sunny summer afternoon I was cruising home from a paradisiacal day trip to Half Moon Bay in a much-too-beautiful ibis white Audi S5 Cabriolet. While I idled at a stoplight, a sudden force whiplashed me from behind and despite my attempt to maneuver in a daze, a second impact jolted sharply from the front. A seemingly senile 75 year old man had been caught off-guard by the stoplight on State Route 92 preceding the junction with Interstate 280; he successfully sandwiched my car in between his turn-of-the-century Lincoln Navigator and the stalled Ford Escape in front of me—ironically occupied by some of my friends. As I awaited the arrival of a tow truck, I walked across nearby Cañada Road and was greeted by a sparkling panorama of the Upper Crystal Springs Reservoir. The abounding resplendence washed away any inkling of momentary stress.
Lo and behold, 2 months later I found myself watching The Man Who Knew Infinity 30,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean as I embarked on a yearlong adventure to Jordan—an opportunity enabled by the insurance company’s deeming my vehicle a total loss due to damages exceeding the 70% threshold of fair market value. The prodigious autodidacticism of Srinivasa Ramanujan is a good reminder that nested radicals, zeta functions and hyperbolic secants are not merely delicate hors d’oeuvres catered to the palate of the rising bourgeoisie at the world’s great universities; rather, a basic foundation in the trivium could suffice for any insan (human) to discover and conceptualize novel theories. Maybe having the recognizable stamp of approval from a 3-letter acronym such as Ph.D, Th.D, D.Ed or D.M.A. is ironically a sufficient yet unnecessary condition for one to bend the limits of universal episteme. Oh how cool it would have been to walk and talk with such a formidable mathematician.
On a recent Saturday adventure my trepidation accelerated as I realized I was at the wrong bus station. My friends were already at the right station a few kilometers away, and the bus was scheduled to depart in 10 minutes! I hastily flagged down another taxi and repeatedly rejected the old man’s incessant offers to drive me all the way to Jerash—I arrived at Amman’s Northern Station 2 minutes after the bus departed. Dang! But there would be another bus. So I paid the nominal fee and waited 45 minutes for the next bus to fill up with Jordanians. Unbeknownst to me in the moment, a new learning opportunity was brewing beneath the open-cell froth of my disquietude. As I began chatting with the passenger sitting beside me—an Indian geometer from Cambridge doing postdoctoral research in Israel—I wished the circumstances were different such that we could become the most intimate of lifelong friends; yet I acknowledged the reality that we were both transient tourists and were likely to cross paths for only 45 minutes of our entire lifespan. So I picked his brain about recent advances in abstract algebra regarding the potential praxis of ring axioms.
When you clicked the link to read this post, you were probably expecting to hear about the Doric, Iconic and Corinthian remnants of a Greco-Roman city whose later expansion was facilitated by the resettlement of Circassians in the heyday of the Ottoman Empire. Well, my mind wandered in lockstep with my feet as I strode down the colonnaded streets basking in a torrid temperature and I wondered: why do we never meet some people? And why do we cross paths with some people for but a brief moment? How many potential friendships or acquaintanceships have eluded me? What if I had never met person X, Y or Z? How different would the world be if somehow everybody could know, be friends with, and learn from everybody else? Well despite its grandeur I guess the oval forum doesn’t quite accommodate 7 billion people. Not to be sacrilegious but I was a little envious of our Almighty God, who has the privilege of perfectly knowing all of His children who have lived, now live, and will yet live on this earth.
Only with hindsight can I fully connect all of the linkages among a tessellation of mutually contingent experiences. What if I hadn’t missed the first bus to Jerash that Saturday? What if I hadn’t been waiting at a stoplight on State Route 92 at that exact moment last summer? Well for sure I would not be in Jordan right now and would likely have never met Srinivasa’s cerebral doppelgänger. Something hinted to me that auspicious day in June that an ostensibly unfortunate event was merely the mask of a providential sign. Sometimes the propitiousness of uneven roads and unforeseen junctures is only discovered after we are at least a little bit patient. I encourage you, when events appear to turn for the worse, to just keep an eye out for that hidden miracle. Not everyone will visit this Jerash in life (I highly recommend it if possible!), but I guarantee everyone will sometime find him or herself strolling around the colonnaded streets of another Jerash.