Coincidence. Serendipity. Whatever you call it, I know it. Intimately.
I’m one of those people who might be riding a bus through the wet jungles of Bolivia only to find I’m sitting beside a long-lost cousin.
So the latest one shouldn’t have surprised me. But of course it did. Those shimmering glimpses of the fabric that holds it all together always do. I get goosebumps and, geez, I wonder.
Jason and I were in Utah. Southern Utah, to be exact. At the bottom of Boulder Mountain, in a dry land of red rock and canyons weirdly dissected by a cool alpine stream.
It was only two days past my uncle’s stirring memorial where, over a church picnic of pulled pork and chocolate cake, I’d realized that my plans to go hiking in the footprints of the early pioneers was less a testimony to his spirit and more a search for him. Somehow, in some part of me, I think I’d thought I’d find him, dusty and sweaty from some steep climb, smiling in the glare of the unstoppable sun.
That was a hard thing.
The sun was certainly unstoppable. It stared down at us as we wandered through the Calf Creek Recreation Area, dryly laughing at us for thinking we might be able to hike the six-some miles to the waterfall. Ha! Jason tried to catch some fish in the creek and I followed him with the camera before finding shelter under the only thing big enough to cast a real shadow: a thermal mass of rock.
Before long, we headed back to the parking lot, pausing on the way to sit on a grassy shore and cool our feet in the water.
And that’s where we were when this guy appeared, armed with a huge camera, obviously a photographer. He stepped inside the river as well.
It’s one of those discussions that you retrace afterwards. How did we get there?, you wonder and so you unravel it, wandering backwards through the casual conversation of who-are-you and where-are-you-from that happens between strangers.
Whose funeral?, he asked. So I told him.
Turned out he was one of my uncle’s students.
Turned out my uncle asked him to take his portrait for a newspaper story about the 30th anniversary of the time he burned the American flag as an English professor in Indiana and big sh*t hit the fan.
And then we shifted to that regular talk – how many miles he had to drive to get back home, where we were off to next. But by that point, I was standing up, hiking boots abandoned by the river.
I was standing up because I felt compelled to move towards this stranger, to figure it out, to find out why we were meeting. The wonder was a need. A need to seize the moment, to grasp it.
That’s what always happens for me in these times of what my brother calls grace and Jung called synchronicity. I want to hold on. I want to decipher.
But there is no figuring it out. It’s only a glimpse. Sudden meaning crystallized in the chaos. And all we can do is stand back and watch, smile, swallow, and say goodbye.