Two Black Swans

A “black swan’ is a term for large-impact, hard to predict, rare event which is beyond the realm of normal expectation. 

This phrase has been used a lot in articles about the current world financial crisis.   In a world of mainly white swans, the appearance of a black swan is remarkable event.  

The term is too poetic to be left to the financial world.  I think  ‘black swan’  events can occur in  individual lives also.  Maybe not necessarily as having a large-impact – but as rare, hard to predict events,  beyond the realm of normal expectation.

I remember two events that suddenly shifted the parameters of my daily world.  

When I was at University in Northern Ireland in the 80’s, I went to see Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams speak.  These two community activitists had started and promoted a remarkable pan-religious peace movement that successfully challenged the violent factions in their country.  It was an act of phenomenal bravery.   The movement was called “The Peace People” and they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.

About 200 people turned out to hear them speak in a small theatre.  At the end, the two women brought out the Nobel medal and put it on the table.   They invited people to come down, speak to them personally and look at the medal.  

About 80 people stayed and crowded around the table.  It was very informal.  I spoke to Mairead Corrigan – she was friendly and gracious.  I then picked up the Nobel Peace Prize medal and held it in my hands.  It was solid and kind of rough-hewn.  I remember turning it over, seeing the three figures on the back and wondering what they signified.  Considering all that the medal represents, I still feel amazement that I had it in my hands.    

Another ‘black  swan’ happened when I was young.  I lived in Richmond, BC.  It was originally an area of farms that was then slowly being converted to residential areas.

Two blocks from our house was a high school with large field.  The one edge of the field abutted wooden fences – small livestock pens that sometimes held horses, but were mainly empty.

One day, to everyone’s amazement, a zebra appeared in one of the pens.

Back in the 60’s, it might as well have been a unicorn – the chances of seeing a zebra were about equal.  Word spread and everyone came to see it.   We tried to feed it grass from our hands.   I seem to remember the zebra was shy about coming to the fence.

The zebra was there about two weeks, I think, then it was gone.   I don’t remember any explanation as to why it was there.   None was needed.


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