Do you believe in signs? The ones from the Universe, I mean. Let me tell you the story of a couple of times that signs have mystically appeared to ease my troubled mind.
Close to Christmas more than 20 years ago, I happily started packing a suitcase in the early afternoon to go home to England to visit with my Mum and my sister for two weeks. My flight lifted off late evening, but I’ve always been a last-minute packer, so no worries.
Until a stray thought about my passport crossed my mind. My stomach dropped like a lead weight, and my heart rate soared to dangerous heights as I went to the drawer to find my passport. Expired. Oh god, no! I recalled thinking, months before, that I needed to renew my passport, but then I forgot all about it.
Picturing myself phoning my mother and my sister to tell them I wouldn’t be showing up at Heathrow airport in the morning, or anytime soon, I went into frenzied panic as I tried to fix this disaster, with time inexorably running out on me.
I rushed out to a Post Office to get a passport form, and spent time filling it in, only to find out (naturally) that the form had to be processed in advance of travelling. So I rushed back home to call the airline to see if they could help me.
Totally overcome by stress, I couldn’t speak without stammering, or control my twitching facial muscles. It wasn’t a pretty sight. And I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t stop myself from yelling at the nice airline lady who had the unenviable task of assisting the frantic, crazed person I had become.
The clock kept mercilessly ticking, but eventually she arranged that I could check in and go to a special desk at the airport and they would let me fly out of the country. And I had to do the same at Heathrow, so I could get into the U.K. I could pick up my new passport from Canada House in London before flying back to Toronto.
I had no sooner hung up the phone, than I had to answer its ringing. My friend Jonathan called to firm up plans for driving me to the airport. My system too flooded with stress hormones to enable me to think clearly, I briefly, and, I’m sure, abruptly, told him about my plight and said I still needed to pack and I’d drive myself to the airport.
I stormed about the apartment, grabbing things and throwing them into the suitcase, scaring one of my cats in the process. Then the front doorbell rang. Really??? Now??? Why???
I ran down the hallway to open the front door. There stood Jonathan. He said from the way I sounded on the phone that I was obviously not capable of driving myself anywhere safely, so he decided to just show up, bless him. I said goodbye to my cats and apologised to them for my extreme behaviour, and Jonathan loaded me and my case into his fancy pick-up truck. As we crept along in rush-hour traffic, I sat beside him, still in meltdown mode, chanting* loudly, with an inner prayer that despite the fear that gripped me we’d arrive at the airport in time and my Air Canada angel’s contingency plans would go well.
We got onto the highway, still crawling, me still chanting. Suddenly there appeared to the right of the highway a huge – and I mean huge – horizontal billboard that read in enormous block capital letters:
Maybe it was advertising for an insurance company or something, I don’t know. But precisely because I was chanting, I was open enough to pay attention, and the message penetrated my psyche. I quickly calmed down, and miraculously transformed back from a humanoid into a human being.
We arrived at Lester B. Pearson airport with enough time to spare after I checked in to toast my relief with a medicinal Napoleon brandy or two before I boarded the plane. And to make things that much sweeter, the passenger I sat next to, a Brit ex-pat like me, shared his own “woops, my passport is out of date” experience, and assured me that all would be well.
Which it was. I passed the holidays with my dear ones, my sister accompanied me to Canada House to get my new passport, and I have never again allowed my passport to expire.
Now let’s move forward in time to about 10 years ago. A period of existential crisis – something to which I am no stranger. I don’t remember the details now, but I do remember the dread I lived under, a hopeless fear of what might become of me.
A member in my Buddhist chapter had asked me and another leader to visit her to give her guidance in faith to help her win a physical health challenge. We began by chanting together, and the visit went very well; the member felt encouraged. But as soon as I left her home and I was alone, my mental focus shifted once again to me and my life. And despair slithered back in.
At one point during my drive home I looked up at the blue sky scattered with white clouds and asked for a sign, something to give me hope and help me keep going.
When I arrived, I pushed myself to eat something to keep my strength up. I had some books on the kitchen table, and while eating I picked one of them up, The Writings of Florence Scovel Shinn. I opened it at random, and coincidentally found myself reading a page about doubt and fear, and the importance of substituting faith for fear.
And then, right at the bottom of the page, I read about a man who was roused out of his fear by a sign he found hanging in a room. A sign printed in large letters that read:
Why worry, it will probably never happen.
I asked for a sign, and I got it.