Last night, a cab dropped me off at apartment in Paris around 9 PM. I get in, warm up dinner, relax. Two hours later, I’m on the phone with my girlfriend when suddenly — in the middle of our conversation — I realize that I can’t find my wallet.
I spend 10 minutes methodically searching the apartment. Nothing. Another ten minutes unpacking my bags. There is no wallet anywhere to be found. With growing disappointment, I see that I must have left it in the cab. I know that I must cancel my cards. I begin to wonder how I can possibly get new cards while abroad. I take a breath, tell myself to relax. I get the phone and start to look up numbers for my bank. A flood of self-judgment: How could I have left my wallet in a cab? Why didn’t I look down at the seat as I usually do before getting out?Is mercury in retrograde? In my mind, I tried to retrace my steps. Had I taken the wallet out to pay, and then put it down to find my keys?
At this point, something tells me to stop. Something tells me to go to the window. It’s not that I heard a voice or anything like that — it’s that I heard a thought. “Go to the window.” As I stood up and walked toward the window, I realized, inexplicably, that I was hoping the taxi would be there.
Now, understand that it did not make any sense whatsoever to hope or expect the taxi to be there. It had been two hours since I was dropped off.
I go to the window.
There’s a taxi.
I can’t believe it. I think: Well, someone else is being dropped off. But, as I go to close the curtain..
The taxi driver appears. My taxi driver. An Asian, middle-aged man. He’s waving at me. Breathless, I rush to put on my jacket and run outside.
“How long have you been here?” I ask.
“I just arrived — I was getting off of work.”
“How did you know which apartment was mine?”
“I didn’t ..”
I checked my wallet. Everything was inside. I still couldn’t believe it. I walked back into my apartment, in a daze.
* * *
I must have realized I lost my wallet around the same time he began driving to my apt. As he arrived, something within “happened” to tell me to get up and look out the window. I “happened” to listen to this crazy thought. The driver “happened” to actually be there — and find my window right before I closed the curtain. All of this defies any rational explanation. I’d never taken this taxi before. Hadn’t written down his info. I had no way of contacting him. Two hours had passed since he dropped me off. I figured that if I left the wallet in the cab, another passenger might have swiped it. Even if someone turned it into the police, I could not imagine how they would find me. (Though I’m sure they “could” if they wanted to..) So I just wrote the situation off and figured I wouldn’t be seeing my wallet again.
Then the thought: Go to the window.
And he was there.
The driver said that if he couldn’t find me, he would have left a note with his information. But how amazing is it that he didn’t have to? What if I hadn’t listened to the inexplicable thought that said “go to the window”, hours after my taxi drove off? I listened.
He was there.
For me, the gift was not merely getting my wallet back, though that was nice. But the truth is that I would have been fine without the wallet. The cards would have been cancelled, and arrangements made. The gift was being attuned to the synchronicity of the moment. The gift was hearing a message that didn’t make any kind of rational sense, but listening anyway. The gift was seeing that listening confirmed before my unbelieving eyes.
If anyone else told this story, I wouldn’t believe it. It happened to me and I barely believe it. But this kind of thing actually happens to me all the time. I call them “Matrix Moments” and over the years I’ve come to see them as signals to trust the Universe, to trust myself. I also experience these moments as reminders that there’s a side to life that defies conventional explanation, that is magical, mysterious. Moments when everything is so obviously, inexplicably aligned that I’m reminded that every other moment is also aligned. Because if even one moment is “on time”, then every other moment must be on time, too.. as all moments are interconnected and interdependent.
The beautiful alignments remind me to remain calm and grounded during moments that seem misaligned, uncomfortable, undesirable, painful. And what’s interesting is that after all this time, after all these reminders, I still need reminding, because of course, I am consciousness expressing Itself through a limited, human form — and these limitations necessitate faith in the Unlimited, in the Unseen.
* * *
Years ago, when I began intentionally “listening” to the Universe, I had a lot of doubt: How could I trust something that I could not explain? As I prioritized spirituality, Life began to speak to me in ways that seemed increasingly magical. But I had to stop trying to explain it. I’d have a dream that something happened, and would wake to see it actually happen. Or, discover that it happened while I was sleeping. An intuition would compel me in a certain way. I began to listen, without knowing why, but only knowing that it felt “right”.
As a fairly rational person, and an academic, I had to consciously overcome my fear of acknowledging this magical, inexplicable side of life. I had to let go of my fear of being seen (or seing myself) as crazy for embracing things that could not be explained, for having faith in the unseen, for trusting in processes and experiences that did not “make sense” in a conventional way.
But the synchronicities and messages were so direct and obvious that I could not deny them. Over time, my faith and trust began to grow. I began to trust my inner knowing, my intuition — even in moments when it seemed that my intuition was wrong, that I’d been mistaken — I began to see that even these “mistakes” were apart of a purposeful unfolding. The conventional, human part of my identity still doubts on a daily basis. Always stressing about something, fearful and striving. But over time, something more profound has grown within me that allows those human fears to be, but also eclipses them with an inner knowing.
On a conventional level, my ego worries and despairs about many things. But the greater part of me knows that everything is in alignment. Aligned for what? I don’t know. And I don’t need to know. Aligned by whom? Can’t say, exactly. But there’s something mysterious, benevolent and intelligent that I trust.
The idea that everything in life is unfolding as it “should” is not something I would impose on anyone else. It is a difficult notion, one that requires a nuanced understanding of different levels of analysis for taking stock of life in all of its complexities. Because the truth is that lots of awful things happen every moment of every day — across the conscious experience of every living being on the planet, unimaginable levels of suffering coexist with joy, love and feelings of peace. What one person experiences as a “blessing” is another person’s “curse”.
But it seems to me that if anything at all is as it should be, then everything is as as it should be — for everything that has ever been, everything that is now and everything that will be is inextricably interconnected. It may be a stretch for some to say that everything as it should be, given the realities of oppression and suffering. Indeed, it is obnoxious, unhelpful and even abusive to try to make someone else believe that an awful thing that happened was “meant to be”.
But there is part of me that holds space for this paradoxical truth. There is something in me that feels that it must work to change things about myself and about the world, even as there is something more profound that knows that nothing needs me to change anything at all — rather, there are simply changes taking place, changes that are changing me, changes that must take place, changes that are meant to be.
The human concept of a blessing is often very selfish, very confused, dualistic and dependent on a Santa-Claus-like image of “God”. And while it’s fine to feel blessed and acknowledge blessings, I personally feel that accepting all of life as a blessing, as one interconnected and mysterious unfolding is my spiritual work. I’m grateful to the taxi driver, for sure. But I’m even more grateful to the Universe for continuing to wink at me in such a delightful way.
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.