Saturday, 14 August 2021

The contingent apple

Somebody gives me a fruit, an apple, say; I take it.  I look at it: I notice that it is a very special apple, because it has taken a unique and extraordinary journey to reach to me.  A journey so extraordinary, in fact, that the chances of it occurring were one in a billion.

First, it had to be selected from those on offer before I received it.  Before that, perhaps, it was among several chosen from the stock of the local greengrocers.  The greengrocers in turn had first to include it in their selection from the wholesalers at New Covent Garden, who had previously bought it among many others from the importers - assuming it is foreign - who earlier had included it in a batch from some country's national apple growers association.  Earlier still, that same apple had somehow managed to be chosen by that same association's buyer among lots sold by local apple growers; to reach that lot, the apple first, by some miracle, had been picked at the right time and at the right place.  Out of the billions of apples that I could have taken, is it not marvellous that this particular apple made it through against all the odds?

The answer, of course, is no, because I never specified months before that I wanted to receive that apple and no other; in fact more or less any apple would have done, making its appearance in my hand rather unextraordinary.  

Thus speaks the pedant; and yet it is rather wonderful to imagine all those foods I have eaten, all those clothes I have worn, all those books I have read, coming from plants and animals and trees which existed long before I knew I wanted them, almost as if they knew before I did.  The same goes for people: all my friends were apparently preparing themselves to be the right person at the right moment.

This logic carries us further.  For it implies that everything I shall want, everyone I shall meet, is already in preparation: the fig I shall eat next year is already growing on the tree; friends-to-be are at this moment living, carefully developing their personalities and manoeuvring themselves into suitable situations so that we shall meet and shall hit it off.  At least so it will appear in retrospect; and so it must appear to any gods watching the curious confluences of people and of things.  Able to see where everything comes from and where everything is going, to them the world must look like a huge, carefully orchestrated courtship ritual with objects and people marrying up despite the most extreme of obstacles.

Viewed in this way, we can imagine lines flowing back from the future, like threads ending in our hands; as each second advances, we pull in the cords a little.  When the string runs out, a something or somebody appears in our life, and we in theirs: for they, too, have been pulling on the cord, reeling us in across space and time through the nexus to come.

And so, as I contemplate the apple, I can imagine that one day, at the appropriate moment, there will be another apple that somebody will hand me, another miracle at the end of its journey towards me.  And with this knowledge, I eat.

(1989)

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