We are put here in this life to learn.
The longer I live and notice how all the details tie together, the harder it is for me to believe in mere coincidence — that I’m not a tiny thread within a grand, woven fabric.
“Dee” is one such thread in my life. Almost completely forgotten, yesterday she walked casually through the door of the shop where I work.
“Hey, how’s it going?” she said in stride, looking me in the eye, her voice full of recognition I didn’t have. She paused, waiting for me to catch up, but I didn’t, which pretty well sums up our relationship. She wandered to the back, looking for ski poles. Then it came to me — she might be the girl I knew years ago. But I still didn’t believe it, even though it was I who recently asked the universe about her, and the universe answered, as it always does: in a way just blunt enough to nudge me back a step.
I’m always startled to realize how much, and how fast, we grow as people. The days seem to move so slowly, almost identical to each preceding day, like swirls in a lazy river. We drift down in a sun-dazed stupor, in and out of consciousness, and then we’re surprised how much has changed when we wake up for a minute. Usually the only time we wake up is when there is a bump in the ride.
Knowing myself, I would never wake up if I didn’t have to, if everything could be cushy the whole way. Why learn new things when everything is fine as it is? Around 2008, Dee was a small anomaly in the ride that led me to much larger realizations about myself.
She was a waitress in a café I frequented in Glenwood Springs. I got to know her in snippets on weekday mornings. She floated on her smile, and I don’t think it was just because of me. Nonetheless, there were flirting notes between us, written and on the air, and I couldn’t get the tune out of my head.
We met for what can only be called a date. She sat right next to me at the Village Smithy in Carbondale. She was very late, but the date was great. We hiked to Mushroom Rock after breakfast — we’d never seen it before. I called in sick to work, and we hiked the rest of the day. No matter how far we hiked, her smile still carried her over the stones.
Meanwhile, I was stone-headed, unable to get my head out of the rocks. I was so lonely I pushed others away without realizing, then called after them when they didn’t return.
Eventually, my letters faded into unresponsive silence. I moved far away for a while and came back. I met a woman and have been living with her in Carbondale the last four years.
I have definitely changed, you might even say “grown.” But I couldn’t see it until I saw Dee.
Like I said, I randomly asked the universe about a loose end and it answered. I recall thinking almost subconsciously while hiking Red Hill last week: “Where is she?” The thought arose and dissipated in a flutter of wind.
Then, poof! She was there in the shop. Though it was Dee before me, it was more like a run-in with my old self.
I debated saying anything at all. She put some ski poles on the counter and handed me a credit card with her name on it. That’s when I finally knew for sure. Again, I debated, this time if I would bother to acknowledge the truth.
“Hey, Dee — I thought you looked familiar.”
“How are you?” she asked.
“Ah, you know,” I paused, unsure what to say, “I’ve been on adventures that keep leading me back here.”
I still wasn’t sure what to say, but felt I should say more. I rambled on, not finding a connection. It was Dee all right, but she had a different vibe. The underlying smile was gone, her clothes were different and she smelled different, with a heavy scent of perfume.
She was still attractive but I couldn’t sense in her what I had before. We had taken different paths in life.
She walked out the door to the street and I lingered on what took place. A loose end had looped back in, and I suddenly knew so clearly I was exactly where I should be.
Do you doubt your path, or that we are here to learn deeper matters than those of raw survival? Just ask the universe, point-blank. And brace yourself for the answers.
“Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
– David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas”
— “Open Space” appears on the second and fourth Friday of every month. Derek Franz lives in Carbondale and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.