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Unidentified Man #1: I believe in mystery.

Unidentified Woman: I believe in family.

Unidentified Man #2: I believe in being who I am.

Unidentified Man #3: I believe in the power of failure.

Unidentified Man #4: And I believe normal life is extraordinary.

Unidentified Man #5: This I believe.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Now, an essay from our series This I Believe. Maria Mayo Robbins is getting a doctorate in religion at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Her life has taken unexpected turns - good and bad - that helped her find meaning and go forward.

Here's our series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

JAY ALLISON: After she experienced a traumatic event, Maria Mayo Robbins felt her life was divided into two parts - before and after. She said that writing this essay helped her understand how to bring those parts together and keep going.

Here's Maria Mayo Robbins with her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. MARIA MAYO ROBBINS (Student, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee): I believe in chance. Strings of unexpected encounters mark my life. I believe that chance has guided me — jolted me sometimes — onto paths I wouldn't have chosen but needed to follow, whether I knew it or not. Chance encounters have led me across continents and into unanticipated worlds.

At 21, I first visited Italy. As I struggled with a mouthful of college Italian to find the word for towel in a hostel one morning, an older woman laughed, straightened out my garbled attempts, and invited me to her home. Chance gently pushed me and led me to a lifelong connection to her family, their small town of Castelfranco Veneto and, several years later, the opportunity to live there.

But chance is not always kind. When I was 25 years old, chance led an intruder to break into my home in the middle of a quiet spring night. The violence of that night and months of rehabilitation left me questioning how I could ever find meaning in such a vicious stroke of fortune. But in the years that followed, I drew even closer to my family and became a more empathetic friend. I relished the ability to walk, or even run, on my own. I did all the things I had always wanted to do: I pierced my nose, flew to Israel, and hauled a rented grand piano up to my eighth-floor apartment. I lived a life in vivid moments. I followed the questions raised by the attack into graduate school, where today, I continue to study and work for justice for victims of violence. I kept going, and meaning took hold in unexpected places.

As a student of religion, I read and write about people and texts that desperately seek cosmic order in a world of chaos. Coincidence threatens the divine order of creation and must be explained. For myself, I believe that chance creates order in the world. We can't choreograph life events, but we can clasp the hands of those who appear in our paths and see where they lead us. So many chance encounters have moved me forward, offering me direction and a sense of purpose — if I was willing to follow.

My belief in chance lets me see life as brimming with possibility: the person next to me in line at the airport who becomes a lifelong friend, the professor on the elevator who asks a provocative question, or the soldier I meet at an outdoor cafe in Jerusalem who takes me on a romantic tour of the city, leaving me with an indelible memory.

And as much as I have resisted saying this for many years, even the unwelcome and cruel strikes of chance must somehow find their place in the order of our lives. Believing this — believing in chance — I can always pick up my body and move forward.

ALLISON: Maria Mayo Robbins with her essay for This I Believe. Robbins told us that now, she's taken to writing short statement of belief whenever she encounters problems and needs to crystallize her thinking.

We invite you to visit npr.org/thisibelieve if you'd like to write an essay and submit it to our series.

For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

SIEGEL: Next Sunday, on WEEKEND EDITION, an essay from a listener in Bangor, Maine. She believes that she learned from her son after his death.

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