The Infinite Monkey Theorem suggests that any event with a probability more than zero can happen at some point, if given enough time. But as the physicist Max Tegmark reminds us, “really freak events happen only exponentially rarely.”
This was one of those exponentially rare moments.
Shaking the box, a subtle rattle could be heard from within. Despite being a brand new sealed box of playing cards, it was clear someone at the factory had let a mistake slip through quality control.
My first thought was to return to the store for a replacement deck. At the time, I often worked as a strolling magician at bars and restaurants, where my job was to stroll from group to group performing close-up magic tricks. In that environment, playing cards are a valued resources because there are infinite possibilities to perform with those 52 cards, and they can easily be carried without taking up too much pocket space—a key consideration when selecting the right tools for the job.
But playing cards, like everything else in life, have a limited lifespan—and I would often go through a deck (or two or three) at every gig, which is why my first instinct was to return the deck for a replacement, but then I decided that it would be far more interesting to keep it. It was an interesting object, a conversation piece, a mystery wrapped in a box. It was quite the anomaly!
I also knew what card was inside, even though at that point I hadn’t yet opened it. I knew what card it was, because I needed it to be that card. I needed to believe that there was still a connection, even after death. That’s why I knew it was the Three of Clubs.
Because that was Stephanie’s favorite card.
Two years earlier, I performed a magic trick for Stephanie. I gave her a deck of cards, inviting her to remove any card she wanted. Without hesitation, she removed the Three of Clubs. She said it’s her favorite because it’s a lucky card: lucky number 3 coupled with the shamrock.
Next, I gave her a black Sharpie marker and asked her to write anything she wanted on the card. She wrote a simple message: “I 🖤 U”
After losing the card back into the deck and inevitably finding it again, I presented her with the card to keep—but she asked that I keep it, because the message she wrote was for me.
I still have this card to this day and count it as one of my most prized possessions—a valued resource to look to for inspiration on my continued journey through life. The message she wrote on that card is especially poignant, because it was also that same week that I asked Stephanie to marry me—and with the biggest and brightest smile, said yes.
But just as sandcastles crumble when the tide comes in and playing cards inevitably wear out, so too do glimpses of heaven—for just a week after Stephanie accepted the proposal, very quietly in her sleep, a blood clot took her from this world.
After all, humans, too, have a limited lifespan.
Though we may never know how long our act will be, we do know that despite how easy it is to get lost in the individual moments of life, we will inevitably be found again, to return from whence we came—etched in the heart with a lasting message from those we love.
Armed with such profound meaning, I knew the lone card in the sealed blue playing card box was the Three of Clubs. It couldn’t be anything else, because that’s what I needed it to be.
It just had to be.
I needed to know there is a connection with life after death—to know Stephanie is somehow still around, even if only in a mystical rather than in a physical form. I needed to hear Stephanie say it one more time—to hear her say I love you.
I knew it was the Three of Clubs, because if it wasn’t, then I didn’t know how to keep on living.
I knew it was the Three of Clubs, because I was a sad man grieving, regrettably still breathing, desperately wanting to keep on believing.
I didn’t dare open the box, though. No! To do so would be to risk losing all hope, and I didn’t dare risk losing the last remaining thread of hope, so I clung to the mystery of the lone card sealed inside the blue playing card box—blue, the physical representation of the sadness that had befallen me, encompassing the message of love from beyond the grave held within.
Over time, however, the grief turned into numbing apathy, which then morphed into enraged anger, at which point the very thought of hope made me even angrier, so I resolved to get rid of the box that now only taunted me with false hope—but before throwing it away, I realized it no longer mattered if I destroyed the illusion. It no longer mattered if the card within was not actually what I wanted and needed it to be. And so, in a fit of rage, I broke the seal of the box.
And when I did, it felt like the plot for a fascinating magic trick—but if it was a magic trick, it would have been too perfect. Too good to be true. But that’s just it. It wasn’t a magic trick; it was real—and it was happening to an audience of one.
“Really freak events happen only exponentially rarely,” and this was one of those exponentially rare moments.
Breaking the seal, I pulled open the flap and peaked inside. There waiting for me was a lone red-backed card.
My heart skipped a beat.
The box is blue, the card is red. How could this be?
Turning the box over, I peaked at the face of the card and all the anger built up inside of me vanished and in its place an ocean of hope flooded my Being.
It was the Three of Clubs.
I don’t share this story often, because few are ready to believe it. It’s simply too perfect, leaving only two obvious solutions: It’s either an exponentially rare coincidence or it’s a revelation of “the unity of complex phenomena which appear to be things quite apart from the direct visible truth.”
As for a coincidence, what a coincidence! First, the defect had to occur at the factory AND make it through quality control. Then, the defective product had to be delivered to a store near my home AND I had to be the person to buy it. AND the Three of Clubs had to have a significant meaning to me.
What if I never met Stephanie? What if we didn’t fall in love? What if I didn’t perform that card trick for her? What if she chose a different card? What if she wrote something else on the card? What if she didn’t die? What if, what if, what if?
A very specific sequence of physically possible yet highly unlikely events had to occur in order to have this experience. It was like filling the observable universe with monkeys and typewriters and giving them unlimited time to bang on the keys. It’s possible they will eventually type out William Shakespeare's Hamlet, but the probability is so small that “the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low.”
The only other plausible explanation is revealed by Max Tegmark: “Whatever the ultimate nature of reality may turn out to be, it's completely different from how it seems.”
There are certain experiences that simply defy explanation, but what I know for certain is hearing Stephanie say “I 🖤 U” from beyond the grave empowered me with a lifetime of hope—changing the tides to allow me to rise again and continue forward on this journey through life.
What resources are available to empower you to change the tides and rise again?
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.