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Too many of the days can go by as a kind of white noise. We’re all prone to complacency at times. Caught up in the mundane grasp of the grocery list, the dog’s vaccination appointment, new brake pads -- the great boring litany that can, if we’re not careful, obscure the pageant of life -- even in Montana springtime -- it’s easy enough to walk from point to point without noticing the tip of miracles sticking up like icebergs. Not every day, nor everywhere you look: but still, now and again, when you walk right into one, you know it. It’s one of the many things that make Montana special: We’re still a garden for miracles, small and large.

I was guilty of such inattentiveness this week, when I walked out of a coffee shop the other morning. I’d been working -- day begins so early at this sweet time of year -- and was going out to pay the parking meter when a young man in a suit with a petition came up to me, looking me in the eye, asking if I’d be interested in hearing about medical research in Montana.

He had a clipboard, of course --  it’s that season -- but my heart leapt, because I already knew what he was doing: trying to get enough signatures to put on the ballot this fall a measure that will make Montana one of the world’s leading medical research centers.

I already knew what he was going to tell me -- that in Montana, we have the best neuroscientists in the world, doing cutting-edge research on Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s diseases, on head trauma to athletes and veterans alike. That, being the third-oldest state in the Union, we have real skin in the game, and that our scientists want to stay in Montana, just like the rest of us, and look at and be in our mountains, our rivers—to fish and hunt here, for the rest of their days. I already knew he was going to say that because of these talents, and our incomparable land, we can step to the front of the line, can claim the position of one of the world’s leading research centers for biomedical research -- and that the initiative would generate wealth, creating thousands of high-paying jobs, diversifying and strengthening local economies and schools and, best of all, pioneering -- that Montana-esque word -- research that will improve the quality of life for so many; for there is nothing truer that when you have your health, you have everything.

There is no one who does not have a dog in this fight. No family in which some beloved is not affected by a chronic illness that would benefit from medical research progress.

I was so happy to sign the petition -- the first signature of the morning for him, his first ask of the day. “I’ve been waiting for you,” I told him.

I spent half an hour hanging out with him -- watching, listening, learning. One pedestrian asked if it would raise taxes. He was relieved to hear it would create jobs and tax revenue. Another said -- curiously -- that he was a Republican so there was no need to approach him. We gently told this man more than 60 percent of Montanans -- across the aisle, Democrats and Republicans alike -- support the initiative. Through it all, the signature-gatherer was positive, indefatigable. It made me realize how hard the job is. I know I would’ve been discouraged at the first "no." I might have panicked, thinking, why can’t people wake up and listen? This is right here, just for the taking -- we can be the word leader in an industry -- health care -- that consumes more than 17 percent of our gross domestic product? Why do they keep walking on past, I would wonder.

The signature gatherer just kept smiling. Greeting each next person who walked his way. It was a thrill to know the signature gatherers were out there in other towns, other communities. That they were on the move. That something big and great was -- is -- so close within reach, requiring just a signature. Some folks walked right on by, did not even glance at the faintest, first tip of a miracle.

Rick Bass is an acclaimed novelist and environmental activist who lives in the Yaak Valley.

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