It was Wednesday morning and I was driving along one of the back roads in order to avoid the rush hour traffic on the highway. All of a sudden I sighted some movement out of the corner of my right eye. There, ahead of me, was a deer that was rushing towards the road. I stepped on the brakes, but quickly realized that chances of avoiding the animal were small. As the car slowed down, and as I braced myself for impact, the deer jumped across the road and crashed into the windshield. Amazingly the glass did not break. The deer was thrown forward on to the road in front of me. As I stopped the car, and cars began to line up behind me, it thrashed around on the road in a panic, as if its limbs were broken. I feared the worst, but much to my amazement the deer eventually got up and ran back up the hill from which it had come to stop and stare at me. I paused for another moment and then drove on. Nothing happened to the car.
Our area is full of deer and crashes between vehicles and these animals happen often, but this was a first for me. I always thought that this kind of an experience would be unavoidable if I lived in the area long enough, and now it has happened. If one believed in the fates, it is possible that you would conclude that now that you have had this one crash, the chances of having another one is reduced. But the laws of probability in this case would lead you to conclude otherwise. Each crash event is independent. So nothing has changed as far as the chances of my hitting a deer in the future – not unless I do something radical to change the circumstances, like for example, moving to a place where there are less deer. We all live with the probabilities of different kinds of disastrous events happening to us in whatever environment we happen to live in. Such is life. One does probably try to avoid thinking about the fact that the probability of dying is unity!
A few weeks earlier, while driving on the high speed lane of the beltway and slowing down for stopped traffic in front of me, my car was hit from behind by a Jeep Wrangler driven by a 19 year old with a provisional license. The girl had been tailgating us and we had been observing her driving apprehensively through the rear view mirror. Luckily I was able to anticipate what was about to happen and adjust my braking accordingly, while at the same time the young girl reacted as needed and managed to slow down before it was too late, so that the effect of the impact was minimized. Nothing disastrous happened and the girl got off with a talking-to. Events like this happen not infrequently where we live and we live with the probabilities.
A few days ago, while running down one of the trails in the local park, I happened to plant my foot awkwardly and twist it. Most of the time, when something like this happens, I just get back in step, and I feel no ill-effect in my ankle because the muscles are quite strong from all the running I do. This time was different. My momentum took me downhill and off the trail and I crashed into some plants and underbrush beside the trail while trying to keep my balance. I managed to stop without falling. I was shaken up for a few seconds but my ankle was fine. I got back on to the trail and went my merry way, in a little bit of a shock. This could have been a disastrous episode. Now, this was not simply a case of the laws of probability catching up. I need to be more careful!
Is it all about luck, or is it the human element that plays the most significant role in what happens to you? I do not think I am superstitious, but think I will stay on my toes and try to be more careful about things. And, NO, I do not have a death wish!