noun \kō-ˈin(t)-sə-dən(t)s, -sə-ˌden(t)s\
the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection
The first known use of this word was in 1605.
I have been thinking about my ‘thanksgiving’ this year and it keeps coming back to this word. Mostly, because of how inadequate a word I think it is, yet how present it is in my life. I have decided to formally strike it from my vocabulary. (After this post) The problem is finding an adequate word to replace it. I will explain. I will start small.
The Thursday before Thanksgiving, I wrestled myself, my remaining family (3 kids) and all my remaining stuff (which exploded and multiplied during the 6 weeks I moved into our friend’s house) to the airport for our final trip to Columbia, SC. I cried the entire morning. I was leaving such good friends. I was facing the vast unknown. We were all still recovering from a serious bout of ‘yuck’ just days before. It was COLD. It was to the point of comical. At least that is the tone of the skit my children enjoy acting out now, dubbed “Uber Ride to Chicago Airport”. I tearfully explained to the Uber driver through sobs and snot that I was really fine. I was just moving away and it was haaaaard. (That last word has to be drawn way out. Not because of my southern accent but because of the sobbing).
After finally drying up the leaky faucet, and finally getting seated on an airplane that could actually FLY. I found myself sitting beside a lovely woman named Danika. We spoke briefly. I figured I was only capable of talking for five minutes tear free, so we just settled into a quiet flight. As we landed, she turned to me and said, “I made this for you, and I want you to have it.”
A bracelet with the word, “HOPE”. How could she have known? Since I was diagnosed with cancer in April, I have been wearing a small gold bracelet of a hamsa. A Jewish symbol of protection. Given to me by my son’s sweet girlfriend. I do not take it off. I tried to sneak it into surgery, but they wouldn’t have any of it. I look to this bracelet as a reminder that I am loved and protected, even through the hard stuff. The timing of her gift and the significance of its message were so striking to me. An ‘act of loving kindness’ from a stranger. Such a ‘coincidence’. Or was it? I now wear the two bracelets together to remind me that not only am I loved and protected, (even through the hard stuff) but this is a time of “hope”. This is a new chapter for me and my family. A fresh start. Thank you Danika.
I will move on to the bigger example of this past year. Many people would agree that it was a difficult year for our family. I will not argue that point. It was tough. But, it was something else too. It was miraculous. It was hard to believe. It was WOW. It was chock full of ‘coincidence’?
It started with Pneumonia on Passover 2013. I had just run 9 miles the day before and felt great. Then Richard and I heard some really weird sounds coming from my chest! I went to Dr. Davis and she and her resident listened to my lungs. They heard nothing. I still remember the look on Dr. Davis’ face. She leaned her head to the side and narrowed her eyes. She looked at me that way for a few minutes. A certain quietness came over her. She went against medical protocol and sent me for an x-ray. On a hunch. Something just wasn’t right.
I didn’t even make it home from the x-ray before she called me. “Please go straight to the emergency room.” “I have called ahead and they are waiting.” “No you do NOT have time to take a shower.” “Best case is pneumonia” “Call me when you get there.”
Now let me share the string of events that happened from there.
In the emergency room, I had a CT scan to diagnose pneumonia. That found a pulmonary nodule on my lung. My doctor, Rhonda Stein, then pushed me to follow up and get a second CT scan 6 months to a year later. I was reluctant, but finally gave in. She called me a week later. “We found growth in the size of the nodule.” “It is probably nothing.” “You will need some more tests.”
This led to a PET scan to see if it was cancerous. It was not. But the PET scan found something else. This led Dr. Stein to hound me for more tests to find out what that ‘something else’ was. I was annoyed. I knew that medical tests like these tend to find weird stuff that everyone has. She was persistent. I kept telling her I was fine! I felt fine anyway.
I went through many more tests that led me to my OB, Dr. Saleh. He did some tests. Everything looked fine. I kept telling him I was fine. He did that thing. That thing that Dr. Davis did. He cocked his head to the side, narrowed his eyes and looked at me for a long quiet minute (or two). The wisdom of all those years of experience speaking up. A life time of ‘acts of loving kindness’ we come to know and lean on from the really good doctors in our lives. He went against medical protocol and did a final test that even my oncologist said he might not have done. It was Passover 2014. One year later. My daughter’s Bat Mitzvah weekend. It was just hours before 30 people showed up at my house for Shabbat dinner. I received a phone call. It was Dr. Saleh. “We found cancer.” “Aggressive and invasive.” “Radical hysterectomy.” “Possible radiation.” “Staging will be done during surgery.”
One week later, I was in the hospital having a major 5 hour surgery that saved my life.
If just one of those ‘coincidences’ had not happened, when it happened, in the exact way that it happened, my life would have taken a very different, most likely tragic turn. But all those ‘coincidences’ DID happen. A whole year of them. So many that pile up to become your life that you can not believe. You begin to lean on them. I might be so bold as to say, you begin to expect them. Like a message. That ‘Whoever Runs This Place’ is paying attention AND on my side. That maybe I am not as alone in this world as I sometimes feel.
At risk of writing a very wordy and too long post, I will share one last example of ‘coincidence’ in my life. The story of my life that began even before I was alive.
I was born as a seeing child. Seemingly healthy and normal. No one knowing that I had a rare eye disease. Congenital glaucoma. A disease that keeps the eyes from being able to release the pressure within them.
When I was four months old, my mother came to get me out of my crib from the night and my eyes were clouded over. As all new moms struggle with what warrants a call to the pediatrician and what does not, she thought “that can’t be normal”. They said, “yes come in right away”. I was four months old. I was now blind.
My mother has talked about that day so many times. She was 21 years old. Married at only 19. A first time mom. A college student. The year before my birth, had been tragic. Her father-in-law, my grandfather, my father’s father took his own life. My father, the oldest of 9 children in a poor Catholic family, had been unable to cry. There was too much responsibility laid on his shoulders to afford tears. They had to quit school and move home. They so wanted to have a child. New life. A sign of hope in a year of sorrow so great my father could not cry.
This day my mother describes as the lowest point in her life. She sat holding me in the hospital hallway sobbing. She would not let anyone come near her and I. My father standing at a distance, alone…crying. She kept thinking “my child, my daughter, she will never get married. She will never go to college.” She prayed or maybe she just cried out, as she knew she was alone in the world. G-d had forsaken her.
What she could not have known at the time is that she was not alone. G-d had not forsaken her. G-d not only heard her cry, but was answering her cry at that very moment on that very day.
One week later, I was recovering from eye surgery and the doctors kept shaking their heads. They were not sure how to explain the results. They had tried a new and experimental surgery to correct the glaucoma, but there was no way to reverse the damage to my corneas. The wounds had left me blind. How then was I able to see?
Growing up, I saw a lot of eye doctors and it was always the same. A lot of head shaking and comments like “we can’t believe she can see as well as she can.” “Hard to explain.” “Beyond science.” My parents called it a miracle.
What I found out many years after being married to Richard is the other ‘coincidence’ of that day. I had searched medical records to find the doctor who did the actual surgery on my eyes. I wanted to thank him and let him know the impact his work plus whatever mystical input had had on my life. I was unable to locate him, but I was struck by something even bigger. That day. That day that my mother talked about all those years. That day she was convinced I would never go to college and never get married. The day that she knew she was forsaken and alone. That day was February 26, l969. It was the day my husband was born.
Not only was I saved from being blind. Not only was she standing on the university campus that I graduated. But many miles away, on Andrews Air force Base, the person intended for me was being born. That very day. She could not have known any of that then. But what if she could? What if we could believe in the connections and ‘coincidence’ and miracles and messages that are making up our lives? Especially in our darkest moments? What a comfort that would be.
So I look at this bracelet that was given to me as I landed in a new chapter of my life, and I know that it was a message to me, delivered through an ‘act of loving kindness’ from another.
“No matter how hard the transition into the unknown is, my dear Michaux, this is a time of hope.”