One day, for no apparent reason, I found myself wondering, “Is Katharine Hepburn still alive?” That night I went to dinner and out of the blue someone asked, “Is Katharine Hepburn still alive?”
Walking on the beach, I started imagining myself playing tennis, though I hadn’t picked up a racket in years. I looked down at my feet, and there on the sand was a tennis ball. About three weeks later I was walking on the boardwalk when I again found myself thinking of tennis. I looked down, and on a wooden bench I found a tennis ball.
Recently I took an online test of psychic abilities (available here). I scored no better than chance. On one test, I was supposed to visualize and describe whatever image came to mind. Then the actual image would be revealed, and I would be scored on how closely my impressions matched reality. I visualized leafless trees in the snow, their branches interlaced, the colors muted against a dark background. The image that came up on the computer screen was nothing like this – a total miss! But the next day I went to the dentist, whose office I had never visited before. In the waiting room, across from where I sat, was a photo of leafless trees in the snow against a dark background, in muted blue tones. That’s the picture, I thought.
This sort of thing probably happens to most of us. In fact, it may happen more often than we realize. Because such incidents are usually insignificant in themselves, and because they don’t fit in with the conventional view of the way the universe works, we may be inclined to dismiss or forget them. That’s a mistake. Such events, however trivial, may be a small window giving us a glimpse of a larger world.
To illustrate my point, I’ve collected some stories from my own experience, like the anecdotes recounted above. All of these stories are true, and I have done my best not to embellish or exaggerate. Some of them were written down soon after they happened, so I can refer to my notes at the time.
I suppose all these events could be chalked up to coincidence or the workings of the subconscious mind. None would convince a skeptic. I list them here simply to give some sense of the strange things that routinely take place in our lives – and are just as routinely overlooked.
Let’s start with some really trivial incidents involving TV.
One day I found myself thinking about an opening scene in The Bride of Frankenstein –an old mill aflame against a night sky. A few hours later, I flipped through TV Guide to see what was on. Starting at that very minute was … The Bride of Frankenstein. I switched to it as the main titles appeared, and after a brief prologue, there was the burning mill. I hadn’t seen or even thought about that movie in years.
One morning I happened to remember a scene in The Simpsons in which Homer mangles the story of “Androcles and the Lion” (he calls it “Hercules and the Lion”). That evening, I turned on the TV to watch a syndicated episode of The Simpsons. It was the same episode.
Similarly, while driving, I remembered a Simpsons episode in which miserly billionaire Mr. Burns reviews his out-of-date stock portfolio, which includes such properties as Confederated Slave Holdings. Later that day … you guessed it, the same episode aired.
Another Simpsons synchronicity: I remembered Homer being taken to the electric chair while the warden calls out, “Dead man walking on the green mile!” That night – same episode.
One day I suddenly became interested in buying a massage device for my back, and spent a good deal of time looking for it on the Web. I had never been interested in such a purchase before. Later that day, I watched an episode of the sitcom NewsRadio. The episode focused on a character’s purchase of a massage chair.
I was watching Crossing Over With John Edward (which I've written about here). During a commercial break, I imagined myself as a guest in the studio audience being “read” by Edward. I imagined Edward saying, “I picture you at a typewriter … writing … are you a writer?” The show came back on, and the first thing Edward said as he surveyed the audience was “Writing, publishing … I’m getting writing, publishing.”
Speaking of publishing, let’s move on to some incidents that involve books.
The Bible phrase “My father’s house has many mansions” (John 14:2) stuck in my mind for two or three days. Then I started reading a book, the first chapter of which described a woman who had become obsessed with a Bible phrase. Which phrase? You’re two steps ahead of me by now. It was, of course, “My father’s house has many mansions.”
About nine months after the September 11 attacks, I found myself feeling agitated and angry about terrorists. I decided to take my mind off it and do some reading. Having been working my way through the Bible, I picked up where I’d left off, at Psalm 37. It begins “Don’t worry about the wicked” and goes on to say that fretting about evildoers will only cause you grief. I couldn’t have picked a more appropriate passage. None of the psalms in the vicinity of Psalm 37 were remotely as appropriate.
My book Last Breath features a villain who is double-jointed. I described him as suffering from Marfan Syndrome. In the first nine months after the book came out, I received many emails from readers, but none touched on this aspect of the story. Then, on the same day, I received two unrelated emails, both on the topic of Marfan Syndrome. In fact, both readers had the same message – that I had misunderstood the illness and that double-jointedness is not associated with it. (Both readers were wrong.) To date, I have received no more Marfan-related emails. None for nine months, and none since, but two in one day?
Here’s a different kind of experience, one that involved my health. I’d had a bad case of the flu for several days. Finally I decided to try some mental healing, something I had read about but never attempted. In a meditative state, I visualized a ball of white energy hovering over me, then entering my body through the belly and suffusing me with healing light. Afterward, I felt markedly better. The next day my flu was gone.
Having the flu is bad enough, but how about getting in a traffic accident? Here are two near misses.
I was stopped at a traffic signal. Normally I’m one of those people who like to move as soon as the light changes. This time I hesitated. Suddenly a car sped around a curve, running the red light. If I hadn’t paused, I would have been rammed at high speed.
I was driving a mountain road when I had the impulse to pull onto a side street. Although I drive this route often, I had never turned onto any of the side streets before. I made the turn, and a minute later my car, which had been giving no indication of trouble, abruptly died – the fan belt had failed. If I hadn’t taken the side street, my car would have conked out on the main road, where traffic moves at fifty miles an hour and there are many blind curves.
I’ve saved two fairly dramatic experiences for last. One involves writing. Since I described this incident in my interview with FictionFix magazine, I will simply quote from the interview.
“How did I come up with the plot [of my novel Comes the Dark]? That was a rather odd experience. I had thought of a few elements of the story but couldn't see any way to put it together, so I just forgot about it. Actually, I got frustrated, fed up with thinking about the whole thing, and simply put it out of my mind. I went to bed thinking that I would never come up with a decent story idea. The next day, as I was doing some chores around the house, I suddenly had the urge to try again. I powered on my laptop computer and started typing a synopsis. And the words just came. The title, the characters, the setting, the theme, the several parallel plot lines, and all the main plot twists – everything just came to me. It was as if I was simply typing, and someone else was doing the actual writing. A few times I started to slow down, and then I would say aloud, ‘What's next?’ And, boom, the pump would be primed again, and more words would come. When I finished after an hour or two, I had a complete synopsis that contained all the essentials of the story. Before I sat down, I had nothing workable at all. Nothing like this has happened to me before or since.”
The other experience, sadly, involves the death of my parents’ dog. This incident was so vivid that I wrote it down in an email message the day after it occurred. Here’s what I set down at that time.
“For about 48 hours before [my mother’s] birthday, I felt really depressed at having to go [to my parents’ house] on Friday night. I dreaded it. This is odd because I visit my folks two or three times a week and normally don't think twice about it. But I did not look forward to Friday. In fact, I remember thinking on Thursday night, ‘Enjoy this night.’ Because I knew that Friday would not be good.
“I also had a dream, which I did not connect with this feeling. The dream was probably three or four days ago. In the dream, I am at my parents' house and a brown dachshund [the same breed and color as my parents’ dog] is running around the living room when suddenly his/her hind legs just collapse. Now the dog is dragging itself around the room, pulling its suddenly useless hindquarters behind it. My father says very sadly, ‘This looks like the end. Goodbye, old friend,’ or words to that effect.”
My dream and my feeling of dread both proved accurate. That Friday, while I was at my parents’ house, their elderly dachshund suffered a stroke which left her hindquarters paralyzed. She was unable to walk and had to be put to sleep the next day. The dog had not suffered any back trouble before this time.
What conclusion can we draw from this grab-bag of anecdotes? Only that my title for this essay may be all wrong. Instead of being unusual occurrences, such incidents may be fairly commonplace – so commonplace that nearly all of us can tell similar stories.
And we should tell them. They make life interesting, and they hint at patterns of meaning underlying the ostensibly random events of our lives. And in a world that often seems dedicated to proving the proposition that life is purposeless and accidental, we need all the meaning we can find. C