During extended news coverage of natural disasters such as the F-4 tornado that leveled Moore, Okla., the wordmiracle can seem overused, especially when miracle is only defined as a supernatural event or the suspension of the laws of nature by a divine agent such as God.
But there is another, lesser understood definition of miracle that is not used enough, the kind of miracle on which the most ardent atheist and evangelical Christian would agree.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin employed this other definition Monday when on "CBS Evening News with Scotty Pelley" she said, "We just need people to pray for those that have been injured and those that have lost so much and we pray there hasn't been any loss of life, but it will be a miracle if people survive the massiveness of this storm itself."
Within minutes of that interview, of course, the first tragic reports of fatalities came in yet Gov. Fallin would still have her miracle.
During continued coverage on CBS Morning News on Tuesday, my friend Gayle King also called for a miracle while recapping the story of Barbara Garcia, the Moore, Okla., woman who was looking for any sign of her little dog "Bowser" in the rubble of her destroyed home. Perhaps you've seen the video. Thanks to a sharp-eyed producer off-camera, the dog was pulled from the debris as a delighted Ms. Garcia exclaimed, "Bowsie!"
"We need more miracles like that," Gayle King said coming back from the story, and she would get her miracles too.
In fact, likely we will all get more miracle stories from the wreckage of Moore because regardless of whether it's testimony of resilient human survival or seeming proof of answered prayers, the bar for miracle is simply "something to marvel at."
Miracle comes to English from the Latin noun miraculum (for "object of wonder") which is derived from the Latin verb miror ("to wonder at") and may go all the way back to a Proto-Indo-European verb that meant "to smile at" or "to be astonished by." Whenever we experience something amazing that makes us smile, we behold the miraculous.
Nothing can mitigate the profound sadness of the deaths of dozens of people. With so many funerals ahead, so many tiny caskets that have yet to be carried for the last time, the depth and scope of the 2013 Moore, Okla., tornado still seems incomprehensible. The families of all the victims would be right in wishing that there had been a few more miracles to go around.
But the governor was right, it was a miracle that anybody survived in the path of this massive storm. And what were the odds that Bowsie would be found alive on live TV? So remote, so heartwarming against the backdrop of all that suffering that one could only smile at such an amazing little thing to see. Holding those smiles in tension with the inevitable return of tears should inspire us to keep trudging through the pain to look for more miracles in the debris field.
It's anyone's guess what those miracles might be. Earlier this year in Bangladesh, a woman survived under the concrete and rebar of a collapsed garment factory for 17 days. Back in 2005 in Pakistan, a woman was discovered in the rubble of her home two months after it was leveled by an earthquake. What miracle stories remain to be told from the piles of wood, shingle and steel of Moore, Okla., in the weeks and months ahead?
"There is going to be chainsaws, there are going to be trucks loaned, there are going to be homes opened," said a local Oklahoma man to NBC's Brian Williams on Tuesday night.
Communities that never tire of banding together in times of tragedy and jubilation -- perhaps the greatest miracle of all.
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