When I boarded my first flight, before 6:00 a.m., I was alerted to the possibility that there might be some mishap ahead. The fellow who took his seat across the aisle from me turned to me, staring, and announced "This will be an eventful flight." I didn't ask him what he meant, but I got the message that there might be a surprise in store of the less-than-welcome kind.
As soon as we were in the air, the fellow sitting ahead of me threw his seat back so he was virtually in my lap, so I could not bring my table down properly. I realized I'd better be careful with the coffee I was about to order from the flight attendants, especially since they were quite distracted, caught up in intense gossip of their own; they were mixing up orders and had already spilled someone's ice. I nursed my coffee carefully, when it came, and got it down safely. Nonethess, I continued to feel some anxiety, edged with irritation
Then the woman to my left spilled her coffee all over my left leg. As she gasped apologies, I sloshed water from a bottle over the vast and spreading stain, grateful that I was wearing jeans instead of the linen pants I had considered earlier that morning.
I turned to my rowmate and said, "Since you have introduced yourself by spilling coffee over me, I need you to explain yourself. There is cleartly some reason we are meant to have a conversation." Yes, I talk to strangers like this, all the time.
For the rest of the flight, she explained her family, her work as a special ed teacher, her hopes for retirement and why she was traveling with her husband to Milwaukee (to visit a married daugher who was a product manager for a department store chain). This was of mild interest, but no big "hits". Then she started tellng me about Bozeman, Montana. "Wait a minute," I interreupted. "You told me earlier you've never been to Bozeman, and you're not going there today. How do you know about it>" She told me that last thing the night before she watched an episode of House Hunters on TV in which a couple were checking out real estate options and lifestyles in Bozeman. So she was prepped, to a small extent, to tell me something about a town I was visiting for the first time, through this coincidence.
This was mildly entertaining, but no big deal. As I waited for my connecting flight at Chicago's O'Hare airport, I reflected that the main interest of my travel experience thus far might be that it suggested he workings of presentiment, an old word for what happens when we feel or sense somethig before it happens. I seemed to know that coffee was going to be spilled. When the spill took place, my prior anxiety and irritation evaporated. I did nopt need to express them now the incident they foreshadowed had taken place, as the White Queen dod not need to scream after she pricked her finger since she had screamed in advance.
I was curious to see what "objective chance" (a Surrealist term for the play of coincidence) might bring me on my second and longer flight. I found myself immediately engrossed in a wonderful conversation with my new rowmate. When I mentioned I was speaking at a bookstore in Bozeman that evening (a marvelous independent called the Country Bookshelf) she immediately offered to put me in touch with another fine independent bookstore in the town where she lives. She recomemnded authors she knows, one of whom I plan to invite to be a guest on my radio show.
When she told me she has been a pediatric nurse for more than 20 years, the conversation deepened. I told her that over that same period, nurses have been the #1 occupational group respresented in my workshops. Nurses have immediate uses for the techniques of shamanic dreaming and are called on to play the role of spiritual guides, and sometimes psychopomps on teh roads through death. We discussed specific techniques that can help nurses to play these roles and to hold their own in the presence of doctors who aact as if M.D. means "minor deity".
For over three hours, our talk ranged wide and deep - from her vivid account of riding in a haycart among a herd of bison during a thunderstorm on a ranch in Wyoming, to the life of the Lakota at Pine Ridge and the visions of Black Elk, tothe work of an achaeoastronomer who discovered that an ancient arrangement of stones in Chaco Canyon cats the shadow of a great bear at the equinox.
Then came the climactic exchange. I was not surprised to learn that my rowmate was a writer, given her great literacy and narrative skill. What was she working on right now. "A memoir of my life when I was three years old," she told me. She explained that this year in her early life was shadowed by a comng death; her father died when she was just four.
I felt shivers running through all of my energy field. Because, for the previous three days, I had been writing a sketch of my life when I was three years old, a time in my early boyhood that was also shadowed by death. I died for the first time, in my present life, at age three, losing vital signs in a hospital in Hobart after I contracted pneumonia. On of the doctors told my parents that I "died and came back." That event changed everything.
So here we were, on the plane to Bozeman: two people who had just discovered that each had been called to write a memoir of what happened at age three, in a time shadowed by coming death. What do you say, when the play of concidence is this profound, specific and personal. I say thank you to the powers of the deeper world that use coincidence to bring us awake.
I also felt I had been rewarded for keeping my sense of humor through the spilled coffee incident. We don't ever want to leave our sense of humor at home.
|Four days after spilled coffee, a perfect Americano at Wild Joe's in Bozeman|