There’s an old joke about a man on his roof in a flood, who prays for God to save him. Soon, some people come by in a boat and offer him a seat, but he refuses, saying God will save him. A little later, rescue workers in a hydroplane attempt to pick him up. Again he refuses, firm in his belief that God will save him, even as the waters rise. Finally a rescue helicopter arrives, again turned away, though the water is now nearly over his roof. A short time later, the man drowns. When he gets to heaven, he exasperatedly says to God, “I prayed to You, and I had faith that You would save me. Why didn’t You?” God simply responded, “Well, I sent you a boat, a hydroplane, and a helicopter…”
I got a visit this week from a helicopter.
A friend sent me a note which…somehow, from hundreds of miles away…hit the bullseye on a struggle I’m having. Her aim was so dead on that it took my breath away. How did she know, from such a distance, what I was going through and just what I needed to hear? Wondrously, that note was followed the very next day by a note from another distant friend on the same subject. The first note was uncanny; two must be a sign.
It remains to be seen if I can muster the courage to allow these caring nudges to be enough to take the step forward that I’ve known that I need to for awhile. We spend much of our lives wishing for signs to tell us what we should be doing. On the rare occasions that I’m blessed enough to get them, I’d be crazy not to listen. Yet the status quo is a powerful thing. I once read that we only make a change when we’re uncomfortable, whether that’s shifting in our seat or changing our lives. But I got a visit from a helicopter…I’d better hop aboard.
“Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign.” –Anatole France
I don’t believe in coincidences. Some of them are simply too amazing to write off to random chance. What are the odds, in my first week after moving to Arkansas, of meeting someone who worked in the same orphanage on the outskirts of Beijing where our youngest daughter was being cared for, at the same time she was there? As it turned out, that was just one of several uncanny things we had in common. People say it’s a small world, but that’s ridiculous. As it turned out, this new friend helped me significantly through the transition, lending a sympathetic ear as I left all of my “sanity friends” behind. I’m very grateful.
I guess I have a hard time believing in coincidences because of how often just the right person has been there in my life when I needed them. The most important example is my best friend and husband of 28 years. Incredibly, my soul mate’s family moved to the same small Kansas farm town my own family moved to at about the same time. Neither of those moves was supposed to happen. We had been planning an out of state move instead, and Russ’ family had suffered a tragic loss they needed to move beyond. Even how we met required intervention. Though our town was small, as a middle class, brainiac nerd, I didn’t run in the same circles as the popular, skinny kid from the trailer park who could sure throw a football. If one of his friends hadn’t taken a liking to my sister, my life might have been very different (we owe you big, Curtis). The skinny kid was sure cute, and older too – he was 17. He couldn’t possibly like me, the mousy girl with glasses, could he? But he did, and he rescued me. He says I did the same.
There are so many others, from friends who’ve alternated between being the meat and the dessert of my life, sometimes sustaining me through difficult times, and other times simply making life way more fun, to bosses and employees who told me what I needed to hear so I could become a better leader and coworker. I’m so very grateful for what you’ve all meant in my life. And I can’t believe you were part of it by accident.
“There is no such thing as accident; it is fate misnamed.” –Napoleon Bonaparte
We grew up in a small farming town of 1,300 in central Kansas, so small there were only 34 students in my graduating class. A couple of years ago, my husband and I were reminiscing about a husband-wife teaching team who had an impact on us. They taught math: 6th-grade for him, 7th-grade for her. They never had children of their own and seemed old to us back then, but I realize now they were only in their forties at the time. They were tough disciplinarians; you didn’t mess around in their classrooms (she scared me more than he did, though he was a big six feet tall). Somehow, though, you realized the tough attitude was a veneer. They really cared about their students, showing an interest in us as people when we weren’t yet used to being taken seriously as people. They were special, and it wasn’t the first time we had reminisced about them. It was, however, the first time we did something about it. It had been 30 years since we had seen them, and we wanted them to know we had turned out alright and thank them for the their role in that. We looked up their address on the internet and wrote them a short letter, summarizing 30 years of our lives and including snapshots of our kids. We didn’t get a response, but felt closure from our small action. (We wrote a similar letter at the same time to the loan-officer-now-bank-president who took a chance decades ago on two young, broke kids and received a nice letter back; I’m not sure loan officers get many thank you notes).
Six months later my beloved grandmother died at 91. We went home for her funeral, spending a sad but nice week reminiscing with family about this special woman. The funeral service was in the local mortuary where we had said goodbye to so many others. The day of the funeral, I stayed close to grandma’s casket visiting with family. After we left, Russ asked me if I had seen “her”. Who, I asked? While I was saying goodbye to my grandmother, that same teacher we had written to came into the mortuary to make arrangements for her husband. Russ had talked to her briefly and learned that he’d had a long fight with cancer, but our letter had made it in time. It had meant a lot to them both. As I listened to this story driving to the cemetery, I began to cry at the thought of “what if”. What if we had never written to them? What if we had waited another year? We’d have forever lost the opportunity to say a well-deserved thank you.
I don’t believe in coincidences, including ending up in a mortuary with a favorite teacher after 30 years. Which of us was it meant to touch and how? My mother taught me to live my life so I can sleep at night, and letting people know they have made a difference in my life is one of the things that helps me sleep well. Whenever I think of this story, I challenge myself whether I have any unsaid thank you’s. Writing this, I have thought of one. Excuse me please, I have a note to send.
“You don’t have to be a ‘person of influence’ to be influential. In fact, the most influential people in my life are probably not even aware of the things they’ve taught me.” –Scott Adams