"Child of the universe"

After all my writing in the recent “Friday Five” about how we humans collide with others who were meant to be in our lives, I was remiss in clarifying that just because someone is meant to enter our lives, doesn’t mean that they necessarily stay for a long time. A significant stay can be as short as the time spent sharing a round of drinks in a bar with someone.

Last night, Shan and I went to our favorite hangout, Benny’s, and saw the usual crew (including “Gnat,” but he doesn’t really bother with us all that much anymore, which doesn’t break my heart) and drank the usual drinks (Miller Lite for me, Bud Light for Shan). But what was different was the arrival of Jenny, who randomly joined us at the bar with some words and advice we were meant to hear on that particular night at that particular time. She even left me with a necklace she’d been wearing that I’d been admiring. It still smells of her Dolce and Gabbana perfume (something I’d like to wear myself, maybe when I run out of my Ralph Lauren “Romance,” Estee Lauder “Intuition” and Chopard “Casmir”).

Ahem. At any rate, Jenny looked no more than 30 years old, but she said she was 52, had raised three kids, and works two jobs, one of which is as a teacher in the Alexandria school district. She’s been poor and rich, suicidal and soaring, hurt and strengthened. She must’ve seen Shan and me, although we were having a great time together, masking a lot of pain and stress. She saw right through to our hearts and inspired us to want to make things better for our lives. Some of the things she said, well, Shan had said to me earlier in the day, which was downright eerie. We were fascinated by her.

Although we exchanged numbers, I don’t expect to hear from her again. And if I do, fine, but it’s all good. We laughed and danced and drank some more, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Sometimes, people like that are meant to cross your path, even for just a moment — someone to make you laugh, make you think, make you dance. She told me I was special, that I was going to do something great with my life, that I was going to write a bestselling book … something Shan had told me only hours earlier.

I often remember Hal, who used to work at my college as a maintenance person. One summer (1996, I believe), I was on a lunch break from working at Kaufmann’s, and I wandered down to Pittsburgh’s Market Square, the ultimate outdoor hangout in the heart of Downtown. Hal was sitting on a wall, and we said hello, but it didn’t end there. He went on and on about how I was special and how I arrived on this earth to make a difference. I forget how he said it, that I was the child of the universe or something like that. He said I possess great power and am capable of great things, and that whatever my passion was, I needed to run after it full force or the world would lose out.

Let me say it, I didn’t know Hal that well. In fact, we’d never spoken before that day, other than exchanging the occasional hello when our paths crossed, which was pretty rare. But he grabbed my hand in Market Square on that sunny afternoon, closed his eyes and began saying the above and so much more, as if it were not his words but those of someone — something — else. Jenny spoke very much the same way, as though the words were not her own.

I learned that Hal possessed great psychic powers (he’d pulled a few things out of my past that surprised me), and he told me that he used to use the gift regularly until it became like a curse. He said he was having terrible visions of children being harmed — being mowed over by a car as they crossed the street, being in fiery car crashes, developing serious illnesses, etc. — and that the visions were coming true, one after the next. He’d said this was breaking his heart, and he tried his level best to squelch the visions for many years. And then, he squeezed my hand and said that he had many visions for me, right at that moment, but all of them were good. He spoke of happiness, some money and writing.

What was funny was that I had dropped out of college for a semester. I should have graduated in spring 1996; instead, I had just gotten back in school and was doubting that I’d ever find the money to get to that degree. To hear that I was going to be a successful writer — as a journalism major — jump-started my very heavy heart, as I was making $4.25 at one job and $5.25 at the other, barely enough to pay for school, books and rent. I also did a work-study gig for another $4.25, and I volunteered to work on the student newspaper and other publications. I was tired all the time, usually sick and definitely overworked by my employers, who expected the world for those lousy hourly rates.

Perhaps Hal associated me with the school magazine and newspaper, but I don’t know how; he didn’t know my name, so I doubted he’d have associated my face with my by-lines. But in one conversation, he knew me … and I barely said a word, as I was purely in awe.

I looked forward to going back to school that semester, so that I could run into him and learn more about him. I might have seen him once or twice, but he unexpectedly died shortly after the term — my senior year — began. I didn’t attend the services, but I thought of him a lot. He made such an imprint on me, with one conversation, and I hoped that he had known that. Obviously, I am still thinking about him, six years later, and his faith in me that he expressed during our lone conversation.

So when Jenny, out of the blue, said she knew I was going somewhere and that I couldn’t let life get me so far down that I lost my way, I was taken aback once again. Why do random strangers pick me out of a crowd to give me encouragement? Perhaps they are not random strangers, but, in fact, guideposts (I s’pose some people would call them angels). She was only telling me what I already know, that I’m currently going nowhere fast and meanwhile sitting on a veritable pot of gold with whatever is going on inside my head.

She did tell me that Shan would be in my life forever. I hope so.

Spoke with my mom and with my grandfather today. I realized how utterly blessed I’ve been, to have them and my grandmother and great-grandmother before them, in my life. All they have ever wanted was to make me happy, and it saddens them when I’m down, because they can’t just kiss my boo-boos and make them “all better” anymore. I give them all the credit in the world for trying, though. It’s really nice to have that built-in personal fan club. The other branches of the family tree are absolute dead wood and unabashedly rotten in nature, and I repeat my statement in my Nov. 1 “Friday Five” entry that we do, in fact, pick our families. And I did damn well, if I say so myself, in choosing the one I’ve got.

But at any rate, I just wanted to add this entry as a postscript to my “Friday Five” entry, as part of the description of my faith. I believe there are people who are meant to show up in your life, to give you guidance, advice or simply something to consider. They don’t — and can’t — stay for very long, but you still take them with you, wherever you go.

And maybe, if you’re really lucky … you can be that guidepost for countless others as well. I can only hope that I’ve been the voice of inspiration or reason for some of the folks I’ve encountered in this life. And maybe they didn’t realize it at the time, but maybe they get it now. Personally, I always know when I’ve met someone significant. I meet so many people (both the stimulating and the lethally boring) that the truly special ones tend to stick out as though they were wearing a neon sign. Some people are meant simply to help you transition from one time to another. When your heart is broken or simply in need of some TLC, someone always comes along to help you heal. Always. I’ve been very fortunate in that respect — I have never truly been alone.

I have to give Max Ehrman credit for the “child of the universe” label. Below is his poem, “Desiderata,” which I memorized years ago, as it is essentially the blueprint to my existence:

Go placidly amid the noise and haste

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,

be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly

and listen to others,

even the dull and ignorant;

they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;

they are vexations to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others

you may become vain and bitter,

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,

for the world is full of trickery.

But do not let this blind you to what virtue there is.

Many persons strive for high ideals

and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.

Especially do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love,

for in the face of all aridity and disappointment

it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and stars.

You have a right to be here.

And whether it is clear to you or not,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with god,

whatever you concieve him to be,

and whatever your labors and aspirations in the noisy confusion of life,

keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham and drudgery and broken dreams

it is still a beautiful world.

Be careful.

Strive to be happy.

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