Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Unlikely Things

“People say believe half of what you see
Some and none of what you hear
But I can’t help but be confused;
If it’s true please tell me dear”

Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield

Helge Antoni, pianist
Helge Antoni, pianist

It is highly unlikely for anyone to meet a renowned concert pianist at a cocktail reception on the mystical and stunningly beautiful island of Capri. It is preposterous that you should become his friend. It is even more unbelievable to have had dinner with him and his lovely wife, Marissa, several times in Europe. Even more improbable yet for him to visit Texas. Even more unlikely for him to be performing publicly at 7:00 PM on 19 January in a concert that is free and open to the public in Baylor University’s Roxy Grove Hall. (Yes, I am encouraging you to come to that remarkable concert). I will certainly be there to see my close friend, Helge Antoni, selections of the works of Grieg and Chopin.helge piano recitalAs unlikely as that wonderful turn of events on Capri was, I would like to now turn to something even more unlikely that happened this week. It came to public attention, owing to a paper given with Jacobian eloquence at a recent evening session of the American Astronomical Society’s 229th meeting in Grapevine, Texas, that a new planet, called Planet Nine—undoubtedly to the chagrin of the Keep-Pluto-a-Planet society[1]—swam into a young astronomer’s ken—rather not his ken, per se, as the planet is only inferred from gravitation effects in the Kuiper belt.[2] It has since been reported in various news outlets, not merely floated along on a billow of rumors, whispered down the lane, or heard on any particular viticultural climber.[3]

planet-nineMore interesting is the fact that his planet actually did swim in, for James Vesper hypothesizes that this is a so-called “rogue” planet, one that was wandering across the universe and then just latched onto our solar system. It is strange that we can’t see it, for it is believed by its theorized gravitational pull to be ten times the size of our own planet. Ten times! That’s a lot of real estate.

And that’s really unexpected. It is stuff you can’t make up, and what’s strange about it is that there is something there, something quite large there with a strong gravitational pull, that you simply can’t see. You can only infer it. You can see a galaxy X Y and Z light years away, you can miss a planet ten times the size of the earth. You can miss what is so very close to your own world, miss it entirely, and only figure out that it is there because someone unlikely—in this case an undergraduate student from New Mexico State University—suggests to you that it is there. It was there all our life and we missed it. We knew Pluto was there, and we decided Pluto wasn’t really the ninth planet so we discarded it. But now we find that there might just be something much bigger than Pluto, thanks to the unlikely discovery of an unlikely scholar. A ninth planet just might be there, one much bigger, one much more influential than we had hitherto expected.

It was there all along and we missed it? Maybe we missed because we were looking for something too small. Can we learn anything from this? Well, it’s the season of the epiphany, so perhaps we can. Maybe we can learn, like the wise men of the east, when we follow a wandering star, that we should expect something amazing, something quite unexpected. If we do learn that, if we do infer as much from Vesper’s ninth planet—I hope they name it after him, “Vesper IX”—then maybe we should be getting our camels ready. Maybe we should prepare ourselves to look for something surprising—yes, actually go out there looking for it. We might not meet a famous musician on Capri and become his friend. But we might, just might, find something extraordinary in the day-to-day movement of our ordinary lives—lives that can become extraordinary when we learn to expect the unexpected.

[1] I am not kidding. Such a society exists:


[3] Where better than


Full of the unexpected
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