What Are the Chances?

We have come to Galway’s Inismór, largest of the Aran Isles. At this moment, we are at the top of the cliff, standing in the ruins of Dún Aonghasa, a fort built here 3000 years ago, a thousand years before Christ. I and a few of my tour mates watch other tourists, some of them part of our group, slide on their stomachs to the cliff’s edge, carefully peer over, take a few photos, then belly slide back a safe distance to stand. Others, far braver, far less acrophobic than I for sure, simply walk to the edge, admire the 300 foot drop to the pounding waves of the Atlantic ocean, shoot their photos, then turn and saunter on their way.

A retired statistics professor in our group who, as I, has not gone to the edge, speaks cryptically, saying that this is a perfect example of why we must always anticipate the unanticipated event. Odd. I ask him what he means.

“This means,” he explains, “we should all keep in mind that at any moment, there is a chance, however small, that some event may occur we haven’t foreseen, in this case, lying at the cliff edge, it giving way and dropping into the sea, you along with it, or perhaps a huge gust of wind may blow a standing person over.

“I had a colleague,” he continues, “who arranged a year’s teaching exchange with a professor at your University of Hawaiʻi. One day, he and two other professors went out along the cliffs on the way to Makapuʻu. They wanted to watch the waves break against the rocks, so they sat at the very edge in order to get the closest view possible.

“All of a sudden, a huge wave came at them, broke over them, and dragged all three into the ocean. The other two were rescued, but my colleague was never seen again.

“We must always,” he repeats, “always anticipate the unanticipated.”

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