One of my nerd hobbies is keeping track of odd, fortuitous coincidences. I started noticing them in my early twenties. While I found them delightful, I found it perplexing that they usually pertained to things and situations that did not strike me as particularly important. That is, it seemed the Universe would unfurl itself in these really interesting and cool coincidences, obviously meant to capture my attention, but the content of the coincidences was usually frivolous. The paradox stumped me for years. I wondered: “Why, in the name of all that is holy and true, would God take the time to bring my attention to this particular coincidence.. when it concerns small potatoes?”
Over time, I began to get the message that the coincidences are not to be analyzed, understood or examined. I started to sense that it was a kind of game – the universe’s / God’s / angels’ way of sending me the cosmic negro head nod .. a kind of inter-galactic wink. There was definitely a divine playfulness involved. I also knew (sensed) that it was supposed to “delight” me – a way of signaling that God is present and interacting/playing with me.
More recently, I’ve sensed that these cosmic winks are meant to communicate something a bit more precise. When they happen – that is, when I notice them – I know intuitively that God is whispering: Relax. All is as it should be. I am exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing at that moment. I can’t really explain the source of this knowingness – I just know it. It’s God’s way of reminding me of who’s in control, reminding me that there is a divine intelligence at work, unfolding as and through the universe.
Anyway. Two matrix moments unfolded today. But I only have the energy to relate one of them. So here goes:
I made plans to see the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s ballet in Lincoln Center and meet up with some folks at the performance. Sounds great, except I also had plans to speak with a group of middle school and high school students about the value of a college education. This meant I had to drive an hour east from my place to Stony Brook, talk with the kids, then drive an hour and a half west to Manhattan for the performance. Usually this would have been more than enough time, especially in the middle of the day, but the Universe decided otherwise. It took me two and a half hours to get from SBU to Lincoln Center. I was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic 2 miles from the venue for almost an hour. It was excruciating. My eyes darted from the traffic, to the clock, to the Manhattan skyline, to the sea of taxis on all sides, to the clock, to my phone, to the steering wheel and back to the unmoving traffic. My head began to throb. I tried calling the box office to make sure I could pick up my ticket after the show began. No one answered. I called again. No answer. I called again.. and again.,. then realized the futility of it all.
My internal monologue was brutal:
The ticket was fucking expensive. They’re never going to let you in. You know how they are at Lincoln Center. Didn’t you hear that girl who told you they didn’t let her into her show because she was late? You’re such a fuckup! You’re going to be so embarrassed getting there late. Why can’t you ever do anything right? This is the second time you’ve been late for a show in the city! What’s wrong with you? The ticket was fucking expensive. They’re never going–
Yes, the monologue repeated. Over and over again.
I focused on my breathing. I noticed the thoughts. I decided to become as aware as I possibly could of the situation. It occurred to me that being late to something is really good training ground for one’s spiritual practice. I allowed myself to feel pissed and irritated. I let the embarrassment wash over me. It felt like a warm, itchy wave dousing my head, neck, shoulders and arms. I survived the feared embarrassment and saw the world had not yet been destroyed. I was still breathing. I caressed the leather on my gear stick, using the sensation to bring me back to the present moment. I looked intently at the yellow blossoms of the trees, absorbed the colorful buildings around me. Everything is unfolding as it should. There is no such thing as “late” when it comes to cosmic timing. Relax. You will get there exactly when you should. And if they don’t let you (me?) in, I (we?) will handle it.
I wondered how I would feel if I were a billionaire and late to a show. Would I panic? Does Oprah get her panties in a knot when she’s running late to a performance? Would Buddha, Jesus or God worry about being late? What about the show that was unfolding in front of me right now? The play of the clouds. The beauty of the afternoon sun. I remembered what a journalist wrote about his interview with Eckhart Tolle — that Tolle was terribly late for but offered no explanation other than a simple apology and a smile. I smiled. It’s fine. I will get there when I get there. This must be the divine will for the unfolding of this moment.
Still, as much as I tried to keep myself from rushing, I pressed hard on the gas pedal whenever possible. I ruthlessly edged out aggressive taxis who tried to cut into my lane. I noticed that I had to pee. Somehow I managed to despair and relax simultaneously. I finally arrived, parked, then went to the wrong box office. I caught myself walking too quickly. I intentionally slowed down. Forty minutes after the show began, I found my way to the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center. I went to the will call table.
“Fleming. I’m late.” I tried not to sound panicked. I got this.
“Who’s holding your ticket?”
“I don’t understand. Holding my ticket? I already purchased it.”
“You’ll have to go downstairs.”
I feigned nonchalance and turned around to see a woman heading into an elevator.
“Could you hold it for me please?”
It so happens that she was also going down to get her ticket. We were both late. We chit chatted. I felt relieved. I wasn’t the only one. (In fact, there were a dozen others waiting to get in.)
So where is the matrix moment in all of this?
Well, we both went to get our tickets. We both took the elevator back upstairs. We both went back to the entrance. She then mentioned being thirsty. So we both went to get a sip of water. As they prepared to let us in, I smiled:
“Enjoy the show.”
We went our separate ways. Or so we thought.
Inside, the usher asked if we were seated together.
“No, we’re not.”
“Actually, you are.”
Turns out . . . we were both seated in adjacent seats in the second row. We couldn’t believe it.
I tried to think of alternative explanations — perhaps they just issued us these tickets on the spot, because we were both late and the seats were open . . . But no. Both of us had already purchased our tickets in and our seats were issued and assigned days in advance. There is no logical reason why the two of us would have both been late, happened to arrive at the exact same time, end up talking to each other and then find that we were seatmates.
“Guess we better introduce ourselves,” I said. And we did. A new friend. Oh, and the other matrixey part of it? Turns out she’s friends with a longtime faculty member in the Africana Studies Department at SBU — where I now have a joint appointment.
There may or may not be a special reason for me to have met Sheila. The point is that this rather elaborate, multi-faceted coincidence would not have happened if I had arrived 1 minute earlier or later to the show. It was only by my being exactly as late as I was that I could be right on time to meet her. It doesn’t matter if we never meet or talk again. The coincidence itself is its own gift – yet another reminder that, despite indications to the contrary, and regardless of our own angst, worry, embarrassment or suffering, everything is unfolding exactly as intended.
And by the way – the show? It was incredible. I was at turns moved to awe-struck silence, eyes brimming with tears, inspired – then suddenly swerving my neck and snapping my fingers along with the dancers as they seamlessly transitioned from classical ballet to shaking their perfectly shaped asses to James Brown’s “I Got The Feelin'”. It was a hell of a performance.