[dropcap]Life is made up of hundreds, thousands, of little moments. Sometimes these pockets of time seem to make sense. Other times they’re random and endlessly confusing. Still there are slivers of our lives in which we feel irrefutably connected. This is a story about one of those times.
Dozens of little coincidences (which go much farther back) led me to open up an email newsletter this morning and read it through. Isn’t that how life always is, a series of sychronisms until they add up to something meaningful? I put it out of my head and went about my day.
Oddly, one of my favorite little quirks of living in San Francisco is riding the MUNI (the bus system and public transportation in SF.) It never fails to be an interesting spectacle. It is always humbling. Yet after getting ready to board a bus from Tahoe triggered a panic attack (due to parallels with what happened in Colombia,) I’ve steered clear of buses whenever possible. It was only because it was raining (and because the cafe I intended to work out of did not have wifi!) that I left for home at that precise moment. Feeling raindrops speckle on my skin like splattered paint, I decided it was time to try the bus again.
Like any good series of coincidences, this story really begins earlier in the day when I opened that email newsletter. Perhaps it goes even farther back, to my seeking reiki healing therapy in the past few months.
Ever since I had heard about reiki, an energy healing technique formed in Japan (that I learned about in India,) I had remained skeptical of it. It doesn’t compute for me, logically. Yet over and over in my life, whenever I needed it most, reiki would show up in my life without explanation. It’s something I don’t really understand, but feel compelled to trust.
I had undergone reiki healing four times, and I knew instinctively that this time around, in desperate search for emotional healing…I was finally ready to seek it for myself.
Instinct. Gut reaction. Intuition. These are all concepts I’ve been examining closely under a microscope as I reflect on the past three months. For all my confidence in my own, and owing much of my access to my intuition to travel, I still cannot process the fact that I did not see what happened to me in Colombia coming. I sat on the bus for nearly twenty minutes with six armed robbers all around me and not one internal alarm was sounded. I go over the events in my head often and realize that after having been on a bus for the better part of a day, I boarded the second bus only to ‘zone out,’ as I usually do when I am in transit. Still, my intuition has been deeply tuned and refined through my travels. The fact that I didn’t see it coming — it’s one of the things that comes up most as I work through the aftermath.
This is all something that I’ve discussed with many friends, and yes, my reiki healer. (Feels strange even to type that!) So while I receive her emails in a daily roundup that I sometimes read, sometimes don’t…I’ve been paying a little bit more attention to her words lately.
Still I didn’t think much of the message this morning. I woke up more tired than usual, and so even pre-coffee I scrolled through my inbox (guilty.) I clicked through to her post, which talked about Mercury in retrograde — not something I care about or even believe in. As my eyes scanned her words, I stopped to read her story about a homeless man who slept in the entryway near her studio. I more or less skimmed the sentences, noting a few interesting details: his blue eyes, strawberry blonde beard, the blue tarp he carried, and his pet German Shepherd dog.
Homelessness is nothing new to everyday life and consciousness in San Francisco, but when she wrote, “There are some people who you can look at their face and know that they’ve come from a better place, that street life isn’t their destiny, they have better plans for themselves, but somehow they ended up there,” it resonated with me. It goes back to my belief that everyone has a story. Understanding that there’s more to someone than meets the eye is essentially empathy, and it can be hard to extend to someone who has hurt you. It’s another belief I’ve had to reinforce in the past few months.
Despite all this deep thinking, I do my best to go about daily life as I once did. At times I ride the MUNI bus across the city and simply watch the city pass by. I watch as people board and step down off the bus, all the while considering what their story might be. Sometimes, I even catch myself smiling about it. But not on this day.
I repeated a few of the patterns I did on that day in Colombia, actually. I boarded an empty bus, put in my headphones, and got lost in my phone instead of the world around me. When I looked up I realized the bus was full of other passengers, with no shortage of the usual characters. I saw a man who appeared to have everything he owned on his back. He had a rather large dog, and she was laid down in the middle of the aisle. I didn’t consider his story. I simply felt annoyed for all the crowding around me and escaped back into my phone and turned up the music.
It took nearly twenty minutes, and the head of the dog appearing near my feet, for me to stop and consider about what was happening around me. When I did, the connections between what I had haphazardly read in the email that morning and what I was seeing in the moment…started firing off like sparks in my head.
It couldn’t be the same man. It’s not him, is it?
Was the dog a German Shepherd? Yes. Did this man have a strawberry blonde beard? I saw the blue eyes, the blue tarp. The backpack she had given him that he requested to carry his things.
I rushed to open the newsletter again. There it was, “his blue eyes,” “his strawberry blonde beard,” “the black and tan German Shepherd whose ears flopped from side to side.” I wondered how it was possible, what were the odds? My eyes widened. How could the very person I read about with eyes half-closed that morning be sitting in front of me now? What seemed like a character in a story became a very real piece of my reality.
The random occurrence isn’t what moved me. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes, then I dismissed it as insignificant. After some thought, I realized it was too bizarre to be coincidence alone. Something told me it had to mean something. So I asked myself:
“What’s the lesson?”
Maybe it’s not just what happens to us in our lives. Maybe it’s not about significance. It could be as life-changing as being a victim of violent crime, or as mundane as sitting next to someone on your commute. What if it isn’t the details — the who, the why, the how, the where? Hundreds of tiny little coincidences occur every day, but they only have meaning if we are aware enough to make the connection and assign them meaning. When we shield ourselves from engaging fully with the world around us, when we have a mobile phone or headphones taking precedence over presence…what are we missing?
Fate. Happenstance. Coincidence. Connection. These are all concepts I’ll continue to be pensive about, especially as I process some of the heaviness of everything I’ve been through lately. I look back to Colombia and that night, and I think, maybe my intuition wasn’t gone. Maybe it isn’t damaged. Perhaps it was simply…disconnected.
But what did it mean, this random encounter with the young homeless man and his dog?
Still unsure, I read the email newsletter again. This time I took my time, I gave it my full attention. I felt the weight of each word.
In the postscript, she wrote, and I read for the first time: “This is not a political post about homelessness, more a statement on how we get too busy to connect with life around us.”
There you have it.
Distraction. Escape. Disconnect. How much time do we spend distracting ourselves from reality? What really is reality if not fully engaging with the world around us as it is, and are we escaping? Whether it’s something as humdrum as a bus ride in our own city, or as new as a bus ride in a foreign countryside, is travel one of those distractions? I had always believed that travel made us more aware of details, more able to see the connections. We sitting pretty in our comfort zones or zone out into a world of our own distractions. What are we missing when we fail to fully engage in what and who we pass by each day?
Have you ever gotten to the end of a page only to realize you have no idea what is on the page you just “read?” Much like the way we read, we can live by skimming the lines and being satisfied with the summary. There is required reading, reading for pleasure, and reading out of boredom…yet we always have the choice of how we read (and how we live.) What we get out of the page depends on the attention we pay to each sentence, each word, each sound. In literature classes we called this “close reading.” Some pages of life is meant to be sped through and skimmed, other chapters demand your full attention to extract meaning. When we close-read an ordinary day, it could be a waste of time and energy…or it could lead to connections we wouldn’t otherwise notice.
For me this sequence of little coincidences was seemingly random at first glance, yet felt weighted with significance once I ruminated on it. It was a call to examine whether I’m actively aware and engaged with the world around me, and perhaps to more mindfully choose when and to whom I give my attention and focus. While part of me wants to believe life is random and coincidences are empty, the other part of me wakes up to the possibility that everyday occurrences are more beautiful and intentional than I’ve ever recognized.
There is power in a single moment and meaning in the mundane, if we have the courage to see everything with eyes wide open.