Coincidences and magical thinking
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on November 21, 2017
When I raced a marathon in September, I hid a plastic bag of my dead friend’s ashes in my sleeve.
Around mile three, I sprinkled a handful of her on the wet pavement. She always told me she dreamed of being a runner, and here she was at last.
A companion asked, “What was her name?”
At that moment, my eyes locked on a solitary sidewalk spectator holding a cardboard sign.
It said, “Julia.”
I screamed and pointed, stunned. “That’s her name!”
For the spiritually minded, coincidences like that sign are evidence of a larger logical structure at work, a benevolent force guiding the universe. To think otherwise would be to accept randomness, rendering life’s events meaningless.
That sign said she was running with me, and I called upon Julia’s angel wings to carry me to the finish line.
In 1993, a stranger in a bookstore convinced me to read “A Book of Angels” by Sophy Burnham.
As I plowed through the pages, I realized I had met an angel, a messenger of the divine.
My sighting occurred two years prior, and it was a night when my heart was heavy. I was liquefying in my bed, losing hope and battling insomnia, when an iridescent silhouette sat up in a chair across from me. My eyes widened, and even my cat murmured.
Burnham wrote an angel sighting doesn’t evoke fear but a strange calm. This apparition said to me over and over, “Everything will be okay. You are loved. Now sleep.” My darkness lifted, and I slept.
I had always dismissed this incident and chalked it up to fatigue and alcohol. Was it an angel? I kept reading, and I knew I would call my dear friend Julia the next day to share the possibility.
I never got the chance. Early in the morning, I ran into Julia’s sister, Ann, at a bus stop. I hadn’t seen her in years, and she had alarming news: Julia was missing.
I wasn’t surprised. Julia and I had been friends since high school, and she struggled. Later in her life, Julia battled bipolar disorder and addictions.
I gave Ann all the information I had, and Julia was eventually located in Dallas. She was reconnected with her family and with me. When I entered her tiny Texas apartment two months later, I was stunned.
Angel figurines covered every wall.
Our friendship never wavered. For 33 years, we shared countless hours of laughter, secrets, crying, fighting and silence. Julia disappeared frequently, but each time I had faith she would surface. She always did.
The medical examiner called Julia’s mother on March 7, 2016.
Her neighbors smelled her decomposing body, and she was found liquefying on her deflated air mattress.
I remembered myself in 1993, sinking into my bed on the floor, heart heavy, losing hope and soaked in alcohol just like Julia, but the angel appeared.
Someone once told me if you could not provide evidence for beliefs, particularly religious ones, those beliefs should be rejected.
Not so fast.
I believe somewhere in this infinite universe there is more intelligent life. I also believe everything people do is motivated by love, either a desire for it, an expression of it or from a lack of it.
Call it faith because I can’t prove any of it. It’s my share of magical thinking.
Still, I always rejected the “There Are No Coincidences” dictate. I knew as psychologists did that we just notice synchronicities while the quiet mundane marches on.
That cardboard sign prompted me to reassess that conviction.
I know Julia is with me.
Sometimes I lie in corpse pose with a chunk of amethyst above my head. I close my eyes and envision the stone’s purple. A portrait of Julia adorns the wall above me. Artist Lesley Morrow said she heard Julia’s voice as she created this image of my friend smiling under the gaze of Our Lady of Guadalupe while surrounded by shimmering angels. When I go deep, I can hear her, too.
I could just be accessing what anthropologist Pascal Boyer called the “person-file system” in my head. Julia was gone, but I had 33 years of stored information for my imagination to create any conversation.
I feel her, and whether that feeling is real or imaginary is a trivial distinction.
We have become so habituated to language and logic we dismiss feeling and intuition. We don’t always have to write on the lined side of the paper, and intellect is adept at stealing our magic – not always, but sometimes.
Through Julia, I’ve transcended reason and embraced knowing’s multiple ways. There’s a bit of freedom in that.