There was once a time when I didn’t think much about coincidence and fate. I was the master of my own world and what happened happened because I made it happen. My will be done and all that.
When I first quit drinking, I told a guy in an AA meeting that I didn’t want to go to AA meetings because I thought they would try to brainwash me. He said that maybe my brain needed washing. It did, as it turned out, and when I began stripping away the layers of ash that had built up over time, I started to see things differently. The more I loosened my grip on trying to control things, the more control I gained. As you can imagine, this was something of a revelation – and so for a while I walked around drunk on the belief that everything in my life was happening for a reason. Especially the stuff I didn’t like – because that was like a direct sign for me to look in a certain direction at something important that I needed to change. Ultimately, I came to believe that every interaction was part of a plan and that every decision I had to make was an opportunity to move in a direction that was fresh and new and filled with a certain kind of karma that lifted me a few feet above the sidewalks most days. My life had changed because I made a conscious effort to start paying attention to little things. Things I used to overlook or take for granted.
About a year after taking my last drink, I was working as a UPS driver in Manhattan and was having a tough day delivering at 30 Rockefeller Center. At one point in the afternoon I was way behind and was using the regular elevator instead of the freight – when my hand truck tipped over. I cursed to myself and tried to maintain my composure as I reached around and through people’s legs to retrieve the fallen parcels. Whispers of “He’s not even supposed to be using this elevator.” followed the passengers out of the car as I continued to strap boxes onto my dolly. It was then that a guy with a thick Jamaican accent held the elevator door open and said to me, “Hey mon. Evertin’s gonna work out. This is just small stuff.” I sarcastically nodded and continued working – but then remembered the little things. When I looked up, he was gone. I stuck my hand through the closing doors and jumped out into the corridor. There was no sign of him. I thought about calling out because I wanted to thank him, but couldn’t think of anything to say. So I took a deep breath, got back into the elevator and finished my shift. Afterward, I went to an AA meeting and shared about the experience. I don’t know what might have happened if the Jamaican guy hadn’t said what he did, but I do know that I was pretty stressed out at the time, and it felt like everything was unraveling for me.
I was laid off from the UPS gig a few months later and wasn’t disappointed. Or nervous about what would happen next. I had turned a corner in my life and truly believed that everything happened for a reason. My job, as it turned out, was simply trying to make the best decisions possible every moment of every day. And for the past twenty years or so, this is how I’ve lived my life. I find humility in knowing that I’m not in control most of the time. And humility is a good thing. Look, I work hard and I have goals like everyone else. And I’m probably more competitive than you. It’s just that I don’t try to force things anymore. Believing that everything works out the way they’re supposed to is my attempt at faith. Even though I can’t understand why things happen when they’re happening, I have enough of a reference point to know that as long as I continue to try to make good decisions, things have a way of working out precisely as they should.
But I’m human, and so sometimes I need to be tapped on the shoulder and reminded to pay attention since my life has gotten so busy that I don’t noticing things like I used to.
Saturday morning I dropped my car off at Best Buy in Midtown Charlotte to have something installed. The plan was for my wife and kids to leave the house fifteen minutes after me, pick me on a street corner near the store and head to an out-of-town soccer match. I was leaning against a lamp post near a bus stop checking life on my phone when a car’s horn shattered my trance. I looked up to see an elderly black woman racing across the busy intersection in advance of an approaching bus. When she reached my side, she smiled and said, “Ooh Lawdie – I’m just in time!” Then she stopped, looked me square in the eyes and said, “Well I’ll tell ya – time just flies.” She then got onto the bus and left.
I don’t obsess over much in life, but I do think about the idea of time a lot. Not because I’m scared of it running out, but because as I’ve grown older I’ve learned to respect the concept of time. When you waste it, you don’t get it back. And we’re only given a little bit of it. Sure, it might sound like a lot – living to be 75 or whatever – but in the realm of things, our time on this planet is like a spec of dust on a timeline. Plus, I’m 47 and can tell you with total confidence that time speeds up as you accumulate more of it. Don’t believe me? Fine. Remember how when we were young, summers seemed to last forever? That’s because we didn’t have many summers in our reference banks. But the more we accumulate, the fewer we remember, and the shorter they become. Time speeds up – and then it disappears.
I am a writer and I have these stories. And because of the way my life has unfolded thus far, I firmly believe that I’m supposed to write something that mobilizes people to something other than the commercial stuff. My biggest problem in writing anything other than work-related content and random blog posts that help relieve some of the creative pressure that builds up – is time. Finding it. Creating it. Setting it aside to be productive in it. I am too wrapped up in life to stop and write. So when that woman at the bus stop said what she did to me, I didn’t blow it off as a chance encounter. I suddenly remembered how little things work – and knew immediately that I was supposed to learn something from her. Then, when I stepped back from the street lamp, I saw this on the pole above me:
I have no idea what any of this means. We never do until later. But I am convinced that the universe was giving me a nudge, or a slap, to let me know that I need to pay attention to something I’ve been overlooking. And that I need to keep the important things in perspective.