Sunday, March 08, 2015
March LFH--Texts, Stories, Twists in the Plot
Three weeks ago I met the maintenance man. He assured me he wasn’t pregnant.
We “Smucker ladies,” a group of five sisters and in-laws, get together for coffee once a month. At our January meeting, my husband’s sister Lois divulged that her daughter Lisa, married last year, hadn’t been to the doctor yet but she thinks she’s pregnant.
Of course we all clucked like happy hens at this news.
A few days later I decided to text Lisa with my good wishes. I flipped open my phone, scrolled down my list of contacts to “Lisa,” and sent this message:
“Is it OK if I know your amazing news?!?! Congratulations!”
My phone automatically signs my name after all messages.
She soon wrote back: “Huh?”
Oh Lisa, stop acting so innocent, I thought, and tapped a reply:
“Huh indeed. Surely you are pregnant and it wasn’t a false alarm.”
A pause followed in which I suddenly recalled that Lisa had moved to Michigan when she got married, and maybe she had — oh dear, please, no — changed her phone number.
I hastily contacted another niece. “Did Lisa change her number?”
Horrified, I texted the unfortunate unknown.
“Oh my word. I think my niece changed her number. Forget everything I said.”
The person wrote back: “No problem.”
I realize now that this moment was where the story tilted, the setting expanded, and the window opened to further possibilities. I could have closed the book then, and it would have remained a slightly embarrassing episode that I related, at most, to my family after school.
Instead, I turned the page and let the story keep happening, sharing the text conversation on my Facebook page where hundreds of people would read it and, I hoped, chuckle quietly and give themselves grace for their own mistakes.
A woman named Elizabeth had contacted me via Facebook regarding an upcoming talk at Garden Way Retirement Community. A few hours after I posted about the texts, another message from Elizabeth popped up. She wondered if I had filled out the W-9 form.
Yes, I had, I told her, and then I went to finish the dishes.
Soon a little squeak from the computer indicated another message from Elizabeth. “Can you call me right now?”
I phoned immediately. What in the world?
Elizabeth said, “I had the weirdest thing happen just now.”
She had just finished her Facebook conversation with me, then decided to read my page and see what was happening in my life. She read the post about the mis-sent message and started laughing.
The activities director across the hall wondered what was so funny.
Elizabeth related, “So I’m laughing hysterically and hollering to the activities director and reading your post out loud. And then the maintenance man walks in and says, ‘Did you say Dorcas? I got the strangest text from a Dorcas yesterday, wondering if I was pregnant.’”
The universe tilted sideways, goose bumps bristled up my arms, and my mouth tried to say something but couldn’t.
It was impossible, that’s all I could comprehend. And yet it had happened.
“Unreal!” we both said. “How in the world?” Then, laughing, I asked what sort of person this maintenance man was.
“Oh, he’s in his 40s,” Elizabeth said. “An active sort of guy.”
She added, “I’ll be sure to introduce you when you come next month.”
She kept her word. Brian the maintenance man was gracious and good-humored. No, he was not pregnant, and yes, he had recently changed his phone number. He wanted to know the niece’s name, in case he gets more messages for her.
We took a photo — me, Elizabeth, Brian and Brenda the young activities director who had wondered what was so funny.
“These things just happen to you,” a friend told me later, implying that I operate on a different plane of possibility than the rest of the world.
“Stories happen to those who tell them,” my mentor, Jessica Maxwell, used to say, as though the crazy collisions of time and events seek out and select only those willing to interpret them afterwards.
“What are the chances?” I asked my engineer son, wondering if one can quantify the impossible.
He calculated the population density of Eugene and assumed that a maximum of 22 feet was required for being “within earshot of another individual.”
After two more paragraphs of calculations, he said, “So there’s a 1-in-40 chance at any given time that there’s a non-family member within earshot, and there’s a 1-in-200,000 chance that it’s one specific non-family-member, which gives us a roughly 1-in-8 million chance of that happening.”
Amazing. But Matt cannot tolerate much of the magical before he lapses back into logic:
Not likely, but considering that there are 7 billion people on this planet, you would expect to see 1,000-ish coincidences such as this every day.”
No engineer can quantify vulnerability, I decided, or the infinite difference between being open to the unexpected vs. being locked in fear of events that you didn’t choose ahead of time.
How many happy endings would never have been written if we all insisted on the explainable and manageable, how much success avoided, how many romances never sprouted?
Such as, for instance, the case of the couple who met at Walmart.
I first heard of them two years ago, at a family dinner, from my husband’s aunts, who introduce stories by yanking one sentence from the end and a few from the middle.
“Yes! They met at Walmart! He prayed before he went. It never occurred to me to pray before I go to Walmart, that I’ll meet someone, but I guess I should!”
Eventually, we pieced the story together, between two emphatic aunts injecting random bits of information.
She turned out to be Sara June, my husband’s Uncle James’ children’s aunt who had been widowed for a number of years. She was going on a normal shopping trip.
He was a good man from proper Mennonite stock, but she had no way of knowing that when she kept running into him at Walmart that day, or that his wife had died a year before, or that before he left the house that day he prayed he’d meet someone.
They kept meeting up in one aisle after another, and finally at about the third meeting she said, “Do I know you?” and they started talking.
Eventually, they were engaged to be married.
I loved this story and wrote about it on my blog.
In another odd twist, I met this same couple at the Kansas City airport just recently. She showed up in front of me at Gate 45 as I waited for my flight to Portland.
“I’m Sara June,” she said. “I think you wrote about us one time.”
She introduced me to her husband, who told me about that meeting at Walmart, how beautiful she looked that day and how God must have meant it to be. He still looked surprised.
You can’t plan serendipity, that mysterious wind that the dictionary defines as good fortune, luck, and an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident. But you can choose to leave the safety of carefully chosen circumstances and take the risk, open the windows, turn the page, and step around the corner to that slightly curving universe where the hilarious and impossible are waiting for you to appear.