Fate, luck, opportunity, chance, divine intervention–I struggle with how to name the many intersections of people, places, and events that make the hair on my arms raise. For me, this is currently about career. Where am I going next?
In her best seller Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg described moving along a career arc as climbing on a jungle gym rather than the traditionally metaphoric ladder. Well, if we’re all traversing the career jungle gym, I like to think that life in general must be one big parkour jam. We’re all just bucking up, using personal momentum to propel ourselves from one obstacle, event, and opportunity to the next.
But what spurs us to choose the handholds we grasp? What keeps us flying through the air rather than crashing to the ground? How do we know when to release, when to close our eyes and trust, when to take the leap?
And that is where the woo woo comes in.
Unfounded or ludicrous beliefs. Belief in talking to the dead, belief in telekinesis, any belief not founded on good evidence. The poorer the evidence, the more ‘woo woo’ the belief.
top definition, UrbanDictionary.com
I believe that when we live life passionately, open to the possibilities that come up every day, ready to enter through the door that opens rather than walk a predetermined path, we discover these strange, unexplainable convergences.
Now, my woo woo definition would include language such as “beliefs that fall outside mainstream Christian tenets,” which would incorporate the mix of ideas I’ve gathered from a variety of religions, philosophies, and downright weird personal experiences.
My woo woo is more about possible explanations than it is about “lack of good evidence.”
Does Luck Exist?
My husband always says that he is a lucky person. Being the word geek that I am, I prefer fortunate, as it implies a bit less randomness. When I think of luck, I think of throwing dice–though any mathematically-inclinded person will point out that odds are all about a finite set of possibilities. Aint no mystery there.
But we are fortunate. Much like the proverbial cat, my hubby and I always manage to land on our feet, no matter what roof we’ve gotten thrown off of.
Take, for instance, his brush with cat scratch fever. Back when we were newly married, Hubby found a lump on the back of his knee. After many examinations and tests, the last at The University of Texas’ Health Science Center in San Antonio, we’d been prepared for a cancer diagnosis and briefed on possible amputation. When the biopsy came back as non-cancerous lymphatic tissue, we were referred to a local infectious disease specialist, who took one look, asked if we had a cat, discovered an old scratch, and provided a lasting family history connection to Ted Nugent’s 1978 hit (if not his later, ahem, “politics”).
You can look at the story two ways: 1. Unfortunately, we were subjected to an intensely scary experience over a common infection. 2. Fortunately, what could’ve been a horrible experience was merely a common infection.
Are we lucky/fortunate, or do we just focus on the positive in negative situations?
The Dead Among Us
When I taught 7th and 8th grade at Martin Jr. High here in Austin, my kids were convinced that my husband was Mexican (I did try to point out that my married name was resoundingly Swiss, but that didn’t seem to deter speculation). They were right, though, in that I absolutely adore the culture. I wish my family gatherings were like the one depicted in Carmen Lomas Garza’s gouache painting, Tamalada (Making Tamales), shown below.
I do believe the dead are with us in some fashion. Perhaps through reincarnation, perhaps residual energy. I know this because of my friend Dano.
Dano was a trail buddy. We’d come to know each other through preparing for the 2005 Pikes Peak marathon. The distance was nothing new, but running to the top of a 14,000-foot mountain on predominantly single-track trail was. The group bonded over that shared experience, forming a lasting “band of brothers.”
Outside of the class and well past that goal race, the two of us often managed to wander around Austin’s Barton Creek greenbelt, Dano usually guiding, but sometimes the two of us roamed, exploring the woods for miles.
As runners do–especially those out on trails, prepping for ultras–we talked for hours. When he was diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), I looked for things that I could do for him. Mostly, that involved visits to keep him company. We watched movies and talked, me telling stories and passing on gossip, trying to take Dano out of his bed and confining body with my words.
During that time, I began having interesting interactions with hawks. Red-tailed hawks are beautiful, wild birds who have special significance for Native Americans. If you knew Dano, you knew how the hawk tied into the man he was–and I wasn’t the only one in our close circle of trail-running friends having these encounters.
Toward the end of my friend’s life, as his physical condition rapidly deteriorated, those visits were rough for me.
The drive from his home to mine took about 45 minutes, and on one particular rainy, dismal day, I was crying as I made my return trip. Traffic was terrible, so I made an unaccustomed turn to avoid downtown’s snarl of cars.
As I paralleled Austin’s Lady Bird Lake, a trio of birds swooped down–two small birds with a hawk in hot pursuit. The three held a tight formation, looking for all the world as though I had an avian fighter escort. They stayed directly in front of my windshield for about a quarter of a mile and then soared upward, out of sight. Shortly afterward, Dano chose to give up his physical fight; I wrote about his death in a blog, “Sign of the Hawk.”
Since then, hawks have found me many times over the years, usually on a solitary trail, one that he and I might have wandered together. I can interpret these appearances several ways, the most logical being that, because I associate hawks with my friend’s indomitable spirit, I am more aware of them now than in the past.
Or I can go woo woo and believe that my friend chooses this form to find, comfort, and watch over me in this life.
My heart chooses the second truth.