The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Signs at the crossroads of Reality and Faith

Signs.   They surround us all the time.   Billboard ads,  public announcements, traffic signs, yard signs, business signs.   However, the ones I'm more interested in are far more personal in nature;  the vast array of vague perceptions that light when encountered, light up the brain.   They may take us back to a special place, moment or person.   They may contain messages that move or inspire us or answer our questions.   They have the ability to lift us when we are down or motivate us when nothing else in the world seems able to.

Most of us ignore these often subtle cues or even go as far as denying they even exist.  Some, however, are keenly in tune with them and know that in our heart of hearts they have meaning.  The connection is made and your mind and soul respond, flooded with emotion as all senses are momentarily put into high gear. They speak out to you like a commanding and bold leader taking the helm, jolting you to attention, calling you to action.

For instance, I came up with the idea for this post early this morning.  I had asked myself in resigned apathy, "What can I possibly write about?"  After suffering a dry spell of writer's block, I feared yet another day mired with white space and mental exhaustion, when suddenly an unexpected spark ignited a flame.  I sat down in my office and began putting my thoughts together. 

Turning to my husband, I ran ideas by him for some feedback.  With me being more philosophical and intuitive in nature and him scientific and analytical this usually plays out like a Tango between our minds, passionate and resistant at the same time.  I took the lead, fervently arguing my position while he kept me at arms length, dismissing "signs" as nothing more than mindless happenstance.   For a moment I felt as though he had knocked the wind from my sails, leaving yet another idea adrift at sea.  Then it happened. I opened up Twitter and the first Tweet I read said it all.

For he who has perception, a mere sign is enough. For he who does not really heed, a thousand explanations are not enough. ~ Haji Bektash
Alas - a sign.

Signs come to us in an endless array of fashions.  Some may be delicate and elusive, while others can hit us like a ton of bricks.  They bring all sorts of messages, whether it be the good fortune of finding a four leaf clover or lucky penny, a song that brings back a memory, or an inexplicable experience with far deeper meaning, that leaves you wondering where the true line between reality, faith and imagination lies.  While being obsessed with signs may be a sign in itself of a serious condition,  the occasional break from rational thinking opens us up to a world of possibilities and keeps us in touch with our inner voice and beliefs.

For example:

My father, age 83, was in a nursing home following a rapid decline in his health.  He had been suffering from complications of prostate cancer and radiation treatment and hospitalized several times, but always managed to bounce back, but this time was different.   We all knew the end of his time with us was near.  Standing by his bedside and speaking through my tears, I told him how much he meant to me.  At a loss for other words, I asked him to somehow let me know that he was still there in spirit, and to say hello to Mom and my other brother, Jimmy, who had passed when I was 10 years old.  With that he began to struggle to say something, but the medications to keep him comfortable had left him unable to speak.  Mustering up what little strength he had left, he lifted his arm and pointed to a card sitting on a nearby table.  I picked it up and took a look.

On the front was a drawing of a colorful rainbow.  Inside was a signature of someone I didn't know.  Asking questions, I tried to understand its significance, but this only led to frustration on his part.  Shaking his head "no", he reached for it.  Opening it, he tore off a small piece and handed it to me.   There were three simple words, but within them was a gift that I would treasure forever.  In whimsical blue print it said, "Luv Ya Lots!"  I cried, clutching it to my heart, and giving him a kiss on his cheek.  He managed to smile and held my hand before falling to sleep.  That night he slipped into a coma and passed the following day.

The next two days I worked tirelessly compiling a CD of his favorite music to play at his funeral.  This is what he would have wanted.  Upon completion, I signed off the computer and got up to go to bed.  Quite unexpectedly, however, the the file opened up again the music began to play in it's own curious order.  Just four songs out of dozens, but it touched me in a way, I'll cherish forever.

First was "Daddy's Little Girl" by the Mills Brothers, the song he and I danced to at my wedding reception for the traditional father/bride pairing.  I was very moved by the moment, surrounded by a sensation of warmth in an otherwise damp and chilly room.  I could feel his presence as I closed my eyes and danced to the music.  A flood of  bittersweet tears came to my eyes.  Immediately following, was "Smile" by Jimmy Durante; its message could not have been more appropriately timed.
"Smile, though your heart is achin'.  Smile, even though it's breakin'.  When there are are clouds in the sky you'll get by if you smile through your fear and sorrow.  Smile, and maybe tomorrow,  you'll see the sun come shinin' through, for you..."
By then, I began questioning my sanity.  Could this  really be happening?  That's when "Crazy" by Patsy Cline played, a song that once again hit home with an air of uncanniness, not only because it addressed the thoughts running through my mind, but more so, the circumstances surrounding the last time we had heard it play together.   It was his all time favorite song.   We sat at the nursing home listening to musicians that had come in to entertain the residents.   They played this song.  With that, my father turned to me and said, "You know, if I wasn't in this wheelchair, I'd get up there and dance with you."   I took his hand, leaned against him and gently swayed to the sounds.

That night, alone in my living room, I knew I had just been given the greatest gift of all - one last dance with my father; a loving and healing sign that he would never far away.   Then the last song played, yet another Patsy Cline song,  "You Belong To Me" closing our interlude as the music stopped playing as mysteriously as it began.

A sign from my father perhaps?  I'd like to think so, but the skeptic in me cried out - "Come on Susan, get real!  Sorrow and grief must be messing with your mind. There must be a plausible explanation!" Perhaps.....

The next day, my husband, my brother and I went to the florist to order flowers for Dad's funeral.   As we walked across the parking lot a mini-van came came flying out of nowhere, cutting us off in our tracks.  The driver pulled into a spot right in front of where we were standing, got out and ran into the shop.  My first response was outrage over her rudeness, nearly running us over.  But then something caught me eye.   Looking at the license plate I took a deep breath and began crying, but this was not out of grief, but rather joy.  Even my husband and brother could believe their eyes.  The plate read, "LuvYaLots".

Over time, I began to notice all sorts of signs.   Some unusual, some darn right humorous and others hard to explain.  I don't question that several may have been a mere association of an action and thought crossing paths at the same time and colliding,  forming a built in reminder alarm to take time to think about a loved one.

For instance, I grew up hearing the line, "If I had a dime for every time I ..." .  After my father's death, those pesky little coins began popping up in the most unusual places.  Never a penny, nickle or quarter - always a dime, and usually of a year that had special meaning.   There was the day I opened a box that had been sealed for 13 years, cleaning up the basement before moving.   I found a brand new dime inside, lying on the bottom .  Strange. Or the one I came across in the back of the cabinet, hiding under a cup - 1976, the year I graduated.  Or the countless one's I found every time I did the wash, walking down the street, or in my mailbox?  Mere conincidences I'm sure, but one that got my attention and would give me a moment of reflection.  Of course, the one that came rolling down the hallway and landed at my foot while I was alone at home took me by surprise.  Its date - 1958, the year I was born.   However, I've come to accept that strange things that defy common sense are not unheard of.

Signs.  They are right there in front of our eyes.  All we have to do is listen to that gut feeling, that hunch, that feeling that someone is tapping on you shoulder saying, "pay close attention!"

I'll never forget the first day that the lottery began in town.  My father was planning to go into a shop after our lunch at a restaurant across the street to "play the numbers".  He asked of us, "Give me four single digit numbers."  I instinctivly turned over my plate.  On the bottom was "9763" and I yet again strongly felt  - this was another sign.  He said, "Okay. But let's change the last number to "0".  Well, that's how much he won.  Zero dollars. Needless to say "9760" did not come up, however, "9763" did!  He learned that day to listen when I had a feeling about things.


It was the year of the Royal Wedding of Charles and Diane.  Like the rest of the world, I was glued to the TV, but rather than enjoying the moment, I found myself more and more disenchanted.  At the tender age of twenty three I had become completely disillusioned with the dating scene.  I felt like a dog chasing it's own tail.  It was getting me nowhere.  Deep inside I had a feeling that my Prince Charming, my Mister Right was somewhere out there, but how to find him was beyond me.

Then one morning, while getting ready to leave for work,  I heard something that made me stop in my tracks.  A relationship therapist was being interviewed on the morning news show.  The anchorman asked, "So where does one go if they are looking to meet that special someone?"

In reply, she looked at the camera and said, "Girls, if you want to meet Mr. Right quit hanging out at the local pick up joints.  Join a fitness center instead."   I realized that this was nothing more than a strange coincidence, but I figured it wouldn't do any harm if I gave it a try.  So I pulled out a telephone book and looked through the yellow pages.  There were big, glitzy ads boasting of state-of-the-art equipment, saunas, hot tubs, classes, etc...  But one small listing caught my eye.  It was small gym, extremely basic and across town in a industrial park.  But for some reason, I knew that it was the right place.  That night I stopped in, signed up and began working out.

Towards closing hour, I was completing my last set of reps, when a guy walked by me on his way out the door.  I looked up and he smiled at me and said "goodnight".   The following night we sat down and talked until closing.  We went out on our first date a few days later.  It turned out that we had crossed paths time and time again without knowing it, and had so much in common that it was uncanny to say the least.  Our conversations from the start felt more like two friends that were anxiously trying to get caught up with all that had gone on during time spent apart. Since that night, we have not been apart.  He still smiles and says goodnight after being together for 32 years.


It may be a song, or something uttered by a stranger on the subway, a familiar scent or words in a book. Needless to say, there are reasonable explanations for these subtle reminders, those gut feelings, when followed, that lead you to you whatever it is you are looking for.  And believe me, there are plenty of people out there who are analyitically inclined, that will gladly help you find them. 

However, maybe we should just enjoy them for what they mean - to you.   Be it a message from a loved one the other side, an angel looking over your shoulder, a religious revelation, a muse or simple intuition at work - they give us pause to think and throw care into the wind, allowing inspiration to flow from mysterious, hidden places sometimes with in surprising results.  Not everything needs to be explained.  Sometimes it's better just to experience, trust and take heed. 

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