I have always been a wonderment junkie. I love when something happens that I cannot explain, but has some sort of magical meaning to me. Whenever I’m brave enough to reveal this about myself to others, I’m always amazed at how many will nod in a conspiratorial way and lean in, saying, “I know, I believe that, too.” And the even more extraordinary thing is that my co-conspirators have come in all different shapes, creeds, and ethnicities. It is a lovely, often unspoken, tie that binds us together. As I am part of a fact-based society, however, a large part of me wants evidence to explain things, even if it means giving up the theme of magical thinking.
My spiritual upbringing wasn’t a heavy one. I went to Catholic school, did my time in the confessional, lost myself in reverie during mass after mass, but as much as I wanted to believe, not a lot of it made sense to me. Once, when I was young and a priest visited my classroom, he told us it was time for us to ask him anything we were wondering about. I put up my hand instantly and he nodded in my direction with a kindly smile, gesturing for me to go ahead.
“How are we supposed to believe when there’s no proof of any of it?”
This, you might imagine, was not the sort of question he had been expecting. I thought that surely someone so close to a higher power should be able to answer this simple question. What I hadn’t anticipated was that he wasn’t having it and I was soundly lectured in front of my classmates, told that this question was disrespectful, that I should have faith and if I were a good Catholic, I would not doubt any of it.
Needless to say, I’m not particularly religious today; however, this does not mean that I don’t continue to look for tiny miracles. I recognize that hope and faith have more value than cynicism, which doesn’t do much more for me than bruise happiness and handcuff intention. I embrace fantastic happenings; try to find the fingers of an unseen force which I imagine weaving them together, musing about the world itself and whether or not the dimensions of reality are actually a thing.
This kind of thinking is especially attractive to me at Christmas. It’s not for any spiritual reason; rather, I think it is because it’s the end of the year, the slow fall of a heavy velvet curtain over a year that has had its share of highs and lows. While the notion of a “Christmas Miracle” is something of a cliché in my view, I tend to think about the unexplained things I’ve experienced or witnessed that gave me pause and a reason to wonder.
Have you ever thought about someone you haven’t seen in ages and suddenly they call or show up? I have had this happen this past year with former students. The image of their face will suddenly pop into my mind, and then, suddenly, the phone will ring and it’s them, completely unaware that they were on my mind. Of course, I don’t tell them this because I’m sure they would think it was spectacularly weird, but I do whisper it to Racheal, my colleague, who always has the graciousness to laugh and express genuine belief in my so-called “power”. “That’s amazing!” she’ll say, and for a moment, I’ll think it is, too. But, is it? Or, is it just plain coincidence?
Other examples? Okay, here’s one that still makes me smile. Years ago, when I was a student, sitting at my workstation daydreaming, I was watching one of the facilitators as she helped a student with courseware, and I was listening to how she was interacting with the student, reassuring her, helping her to understand when it was clear that the woman was frustrated. Eventually, the student brightened and it was as though you could see understanding and confidence flood her face. I thought to myself, “I wish I could do that. I wonder what it would take to work here or become a Facilitator.” During that time, I was extremely stressed, applying frantically for jobs, sending out résumé after résumé and feeling more and more rejected with each passing day. Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder and there was Dorota, smiling and asking me to follow her to her office. I followed her, anxious, thinking I was about to be reprimanded for something, and when I sat down she said sternly, “You’re in so much trouble!” For a moment, I didn’t know what to do, but then she burst out laughing and said she had been kidding, that what she really wanted was to see if I would be interested in taking on a placement position with the college. Relieved, stunned, and laughing (because I have the same brand of humour) I accepted right away, thinking that this was a very weird sign and that it would be a mistake to dismiss it.
Less than a month later, the facilitator I had been watching that day decided to move on to another opportunity, and I was offered her spot. Coincidence? Miracle? Whatever the case may be, I didn’t let this new opportunity pass and decided to follow the sign instead of trying to find the logic in it. I had been hoping all along, wishing for something, anything, to help me out, and inexplicably something did.
Here’s the thing about hope: it’s fact-based. You can line up all the facts and hope they’ll bring you the desired outcome, but you have to put some effort into it all. It’s different than belief which is more the thinking that no matter what the facts are, the desired outcome will happen anyway. Did I believe that something good would come my way? No, it was more hope. Yes, the fact that I was offered the very thing I’d been hoping for had seemingly come to me without effort, I know that I had unconsciously worked toward it by putting effort into my studies, by presenting myself as a viable candidate for the role. Did I make my own miracle, though?
No. I don’t think I did. Sometimes, I allow myself to believe, and hope, that there is more than all of this. I don’t let that belief dictate my life, and I accept that I, like everyone else, actively designs and navigates their own path through choice and action. Basically, I need to take responsibility for what I want, but I need to recognize that sometimes, without logic or reason, a sign will present itself to me, and it’s my choice as to whether or not I accept it. Is this magic? The work of a mystical being? I don’t have the first clue but I’m not sure anyone does.
As Christmas draws nearer, I, like many reading this, think of those in my life who are no longer here and whose absences have left a mark on me. The first and foremost is my mother, who passed away almost 3 years ago. My last Christmas with her, she told me that she knew the end was near, and I didn’t want any part of that conversation. I said she’d be fine and I wanted to believe it, but I knew, deep down, that there weren’t going to be any miracles that year. Two weeks later, she was gone. Of course, with the season upon us, I have been thinking of her and missing our family holidays. I mentioned this to my father, said I keep looking for signs of her, but haven’t had much luck.
“Oh, she’s around,” he said knowingly. “You just need to look for the signs.”
A few days later, I sat down with a student who has been with us for six months. We were working on her résumé, getting her ready for a new career, chatting about her past, her goals for the future, and so on. Suddenly, I looked at her work history and saw something that caught my eye.
This was the woman who had been my mother’s instructor over 20 years previously. This woman had taught her how to be a hairdresser in a completely different city, in what you might say was a completely different life. My mother often spoke of this woman, calling her “Miss Angie”, which meant nothing to me then, but has a completely different meaning to me now.
I told the student this, and she smiled in amazement. “Well,” she said, “I helped your mother then, and you’re helping me now.”
You can call this what you want, but I am going to call this something of a miracle. Maybe there is something binding us all together, something that goes beyond coincidence and transcends religious ideology. Maybe, all we need to do is make an effort and allow ourselves to recognize the signs.
Whatever you may believe, this holiday season I encourage you to look for signs and to question all the happy coincidences. There is something for everyone, no matter what faith you identify with. It is my belief that there is a tie that binds us all, and that it doesn’t need to be defined as long as it is quietly respected.
If you don’t celebrate any holiday in particular, perhaps you can get behind “Chocolate-Covered Anything Day” on December 16, 2017. It’s a real thing, and definitely something I can believe in, with or without signs.