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Thursday, September 20, 2012

It Was a Miracle! ... Or Was It? Maybe. Maybe It Was.

Is this an angel? How do you know? Souce

Could you meet an angel standing in line here? Why not?
Source & Source

One day I saw a famous atheist on TV and he pissed me off and I emailed him a snotty, belligerent, sarcastic email. To my surprise he sent me back a very charming, almost flirtatious email. That night we began a debate about God; it rapidly segued into an erotic relationship. "Save Send Delete" tells that story.

People ask me now if I ever changed the atheist's mind.

I did. For however brief a moment.

A synchronous event involving him and me was so beyond chance it knocked him off his center and he admitted that he felt that there was more going on than meets the eye, or the conscious human mind.


Synchronicity. Numinous events. Beyond-chance encounters. Even miracle cures.

How spectacular do these events have to be to change a skeptic's mind?

A terminally ill man pours Lourdes water on his exposed brain tumor. He recovers. I read that in a medical text decades ago. Never forgot it. Is that enough to convince a skeptic? I think it convinced the doctor who wrote the book.

A woman dreams of her husband coming to her, telling her he's sorry, telling her she'll be okay. Somehow, she knows he is dead. She wakes, paces the house. The phone rings. Her husband is, indeed, dead. Is that enough evidence to convince a skeptic? I've met former skeptics who have lived such stories and been changed for life.


I've experienced events like these, and my friends and loved ones have reported events like these to me, all my life. I can't not believe in them, any more than I can't not believe in weather. Water is falling from the sky. I am getting wet. I believe.


So, I've just been told that I have cancer, and I'm going through the toughest patch of my life. I am more sad and frightened and lost than anyone who knows me can even begin to imagine. The other day I screamed and spat on the floor: two things I have never done before.

A persistent memory keeps coming to me. Why this memory? I do not know.

At the time, this event felt like a miracle. It felt like angels.

I'm going to tell you this story, and you are going to make fun of me.

Because this isn't a story about, say, a man pouring Lourdes water on his tumor and being cured. This is a much smaller, simpler story.

You're going to say, "Give me a break. There's NOTHING miraculous in that story!"

Or, you're going to have pity on me. You're going to think, "Babe, you are so far gone, you're grasping at straws. I'll humor you."

Okay, you can think that if you want. But you'd be wrong. So there.

And – listen – I'm going to end this story in a way that even if you could never be a believer, you will have to agree that miracles are possible.


I was a graduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington. My experience there was hell. I've written about that enough elsewhere, including in the essay "Small Miracle."

Let's just say if I could rewrite my life, I would become a meth addict, marry a syphilitic bigamist with a basement full of taxidermied x-wives, and invest my life savings with Bernie Madoff before I would ever repeat the nightmare I lived on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington.


The events I will describe, below, happened one summer. A hot summer. A really hot summer. This is the Midwest. A skillet baking under the sun, a dry poplar leaf trembling in wait for the next tornado. The only cool it will give you till autumn are the thunderstorm hailstones that pelt down on your shoulders, making you wonder when the frogs, locusts, and rivers of blood show up. The Midwest knows how to do summers that make you beg for mercy.

This summer was a particularly dark chapter. Several loved ones died within months of each other: my mother, whom I held in my arms as she died, my best friend in Bloomington, David, whom I write about in the book, a very sweet 25 year old gay rights activist, Eagle Scout and elementary schoolteacher. My oldest living relative, my best online friend, and a friend I had left behind in another state.

This was all combined with more noxious academic obstacles I won't even describe here.

One good thing. I was working a job I really loved. My boss, Moira, was a sweetheart. She, Mandy and I all worked in a very cramped, windowless office in the university's main library. I was around books all day, and very dear coworkers. A plus.

But I was just so sick of IUB. I felt so brittle, so tense, I thought I'd snap. I had no more arrows in my quiver to fight the final battles that would get me out of town to a better place.

And the funniest thing happened.

And now, as I face cancer, thoughts of this event just keep coming back to me.

What happened? Did a dead relative return in a dream and tell me which convenience store was selling the winning lottery ticket? Did I see a talking bush that burned, but was not consumed? Did I levitate? Predict an election outcome? Meet Mr. Right?


Okay, enough build up. Here it is, and nothing I can type here will make it sound any less trivial, any less silly. And nothing I can type here can encapsulate how magical it felt at the time, and how magical memories of these events feel.

Strangers smiled and waved.

Yeah, that's it. Strangers smiled and waved.

No, no, not that kind of smile. Not that kind of wave.

People I'd never seen before, and would never see again, went out of their way to make contact with me, to meet my eyes, and to smile at me in a way that said, "I KNOW you. I APPRECIATE you. I know what you are facing. I know it's a drag. And I know – and I know in your heart and soul that you know this, too – we know that it is going to be okay. No matter how bleak it looks now, it is going to be okay."

These weren't the smiles that strangers smile at each other. These were the smiles that confederates, compadres, co-conspirators for the good, smile at each other, when they are downed behind enemy lines, and they run across a comrade, and they want to convey warmth, encouragement, and connection, without breaking cover.

Okay, now that I've typed it all out, it does sound crazy. It does sound like nothing, like I was making a mountain out of a molehill.

But here's the thing – there have been any number of moments in my life when I would have loved to have that experience, and I didn't. I had it that summer at IUB. It lasted for a month or more or less; I don't remember exactly.

So, if this were just a product of my stressed mind over-interpreting strangers' smiles, why not before this time? Why not after?

And Moira, my boss, and Mandy, my coworker, two women I'm still in touch with, never said to me that it was obvious that I was going off the deep end. I never missed a day of work, was never late, and I was more productive than any previous employee in the same position.

I remember two of these smiles. Once, I was in line at the Bloomington Bagel Company, where I used to go for lunch. The man in front of me, looking very much like any given man in the Midwest – white, conservatively dressed, about my age, reasonably attractive but not movie star handsome, suddenly turned around, and, without his eyes wandering around the room for even the briefest second, he targeted my eyes, made eye contact with me, and smiled. Enthusiastically. Beautifully. Beneficently.

I said nothing, and neither did he. After we shared this smile, he turned back around, and we made no further contact.


Another event:

It was high summer. IUB's campus was deserted. It just lay there motionless, baking under the sun. I was walking from my job, across campus, to the main drag in town.

Up in the distance, a bit ahead of me, was a beautiful, young, blonde woman in what looked to me like a red, designer dress. Not a ball gown, but, rather, a chic little-black-dress type dress, except it was red.

What the hell was she doing on campus? No one else was around. No classes, no conferences, no games.

There was no way she could have heard or seen me. We were separated by the length of oh, say, two large suburban homes with lawns.

And then, as if she were quite conscious of what she was doing, she stopped, turned around, immediately made eye contact with me across the distance between us, and smiled, and waved.

What the … ???

I was really confused. I had no idea what to make of this. I walked on and so did she. Campus buildings intervened. I was approaching the student center, a large, rambling building surrounded by lawn.

Heck, there she was again. Again, up ahead of me, again, that distance between us. And she did it again. Moved as if planned, as if quite conscious, turned, made eye contact with me, smiled, enthusiastically, warmly, smiled, and waved. In an equally casual and unhurried manner, she stopped, turned back around, and went on her way.

Yes, I did think she was probably an angel.

Or, I thought, maybe these smilers and wavers are all just Hoosiers, just humans, but some angel whispered in their ear, in a frequency they could subconsciously understand, "See that human over there? Your fellow human? Having a tough time. Give her a smile. Give her a wave. That's right; that's the spirit. Thanks."

Because it wasn't just the oddness of it all. It wasn't just the smile, the wave.

It was how sweet and good I felt after each one of these stranger-smile-waves. I felt as if my finger had been dipped in the celestial honeypot. I felt as if my quiver's stock of arrows had been renewed, and I could get it together, slay the final dragons, and get the heck out of Bloomington, which I did shortly do.


Okay, so maybe I was nuts, and still am.

But here's the thing. Even if you are a skeptic, even if you insist on material reality being the only thing there is, this story is still magical.

Complete strangers smiled at me during a crappy period in my life.

And I took spiritual food from these encounters.

These brief smiles made my life better.

The blonde in the red dress wasn't an angel? But a mere mortal?


I remember distinctly a complete stranger whose name I'll never know, about whom I'll never know anything, except that she was blonde and looked good in a high quality red dress.

She lifted up my life.

I am grateful to her to his day.

It's something, isn't it? That we humans can touch each other, forever, we can sustain life, we can keep each other going through tough times, just with that much spontaneous, simple, kindness.

Pretty damn miraculous to me.


  1. I have a friend named Mike. I met him while playing Mafia Wars on Facebook. I found out he was living in Poland and at the time was just beginning my search for my family in Poland. Mike and I became good friends. Mike was an alcoholic. To make a long story short, Mike helped me find my family in Poland and I helped him kick his alcoholism, avoiding an almost certain death. He calls me his angel. I'm not an angel. I'm a human being, flesh and blood, yet I have to wonder why the two of us were brought together over thousands of miles. We met on facebook, then we met in Poland, then we met in Canada and now we meet in the USA. Is it a miracle? Or is just a new age way of meeting and communicating with people on facebook?

    1. Sounds like a script for the TV series Touch. Synchronisity (don't think that's spelled right), but it happens and it's wonderful when it does.