He was drop-dead gorgeous. Spinoza was a hunk. Unfortunately, he was “temporally unavailable” in the same way that some men are “geographically undesirable.”
This is because he had been dead for over three hundred years.
It was 1992. I was thirty-two and unfortunately still single. I was taking classes at California State University, Northridge (CSUN) prepping for a doctoral program at the University of Southern California.
It was the first day of a CSUN class. I flipped through the course text, The Great Philosophers, perusing pictures of the dead blokes I would be studying that semester. René Descartes looked like a snarky know-it-all. “Got fried” perfectly described Gottfried Leibniz’s waist-length, overly curly wig. It appeared to have been blitzed by high tension wires. But Baruch Spinoza was the handsomest man I’d ever seen (in this particular portrait on page 103). In fact, he looked a little like my first boyfriend (singer Tom Jones), except for the shoulder-length curls.
I knew nothing about these so-called seventeenth-century “rationalists,” who believed that knowledge was independent of sense experience. Plus, I was not versed on the other great thinkers pictured in the book, such as St. Augustine, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein. But I knew the professor would be taking us on an enlightening cruise through the waters of Western philosophy.
Two months later, we had not yet studied the hunk on page 103. In fact, I no longer remembered his name when suddenly the teacher outlined a theory on the blackboard, and I became as excited as the “class” that had finally located its “struggle.” I had found my ideological soul mate, and his name was Baruch Spinoza. Like me, this Dutch philosopher argued that the universe was determined and amoral and that humans were arrogant in placing themselves above nonhumans on the Great Chain of Being. It was only a matter of minutes before I reexamined the course book to discover that the hunk and soul mate were one and the same.
“Are you dating anyone?” my gal pal, Lynn, asked that night during our usual “girl talk” phone session.
“No, but I have a crush on a philosopher born in 1632,” I joked.
“Oh, that’s really funny,” she replied. “You have a crush on a guy who died in 1677.”
It felt like I’d been zapped by Leibniz’s electrical wire. I was in shock because Spinoza did, in fact, die in 1677.
“Why did you say that?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she said.
Lynn had never studied philosophy or heard of Spinoza. I designated this as the first spooky experience of my life.
Before this, I’d considered paranormal experiences to be fraudulent, often the result of an overactive imagination. I’d placed great value on logic and evidence. But Lynn’s comment had changed my perspective. Suddenly I was unsure about it all.
I vacationed in Europe a year later. I had never really fancied travel, but when I did go out of town, it was to visit someone special, such as a boyfriend or my birth parents or a particular VIP whom I didn’t yet know but hoped to befriend. I had never been one for tourist attractions or group tours. They felt like conformity traps. The error with this vacation was that I had designed it without a person in mind. It was an aimless wander from one foreign city to another. And for me, this was a recipe for boredom and restlessness.
The good news was that when I hit Holland, I realized that I was visiting someone after all: Spinoza. He was the VIP whom I hoped to befriend. His aura infused every cobblestone street, delightful Dutch structure, and winding waterway. I suddenly believed I knew secrets about him. Somehow I’d inhaled his spirit. I was in sync. I seemed to understand the synapses in his brain. It was as if his essence was my essence. I had additional unexplainable experiences, and every clue suggested I was in the right place, at the right time, visiting the right person.
It also felt as if I were being led from place to place not by my head, heart, or feet but rather by a mysterious ally called intuition. I came to believe that there is a secret drawer that goes ignored and untapped by most people, yet it holds powerful tools and insights. I came to believe that cause and effect operate on a more unobservable, immeasurable, and far-reaching level than I’d ever imagined. I was certain the tossing universe had secrets to which humans and science would never be privy.
After my Spinoza trip, I came to rely upon intuition. As a Realtor, I avoided two vacant houses that simply did not feel right. As a hiker, I abandoned a woodsy trail that felt dangerous. Maybe intuition saved my life. Maybe it didn’t. I will never know. My odd happenings and link to Spinoza also put me on a certain path within academia and led me to devise the unique animal rights philosophy I hold today.
Spinoza has cloaked me with a spiritual veil, forever changing the way I view things. He has shown me that while the forces toss and turn, there may be sneaky little dwarfs who whistle while they work. And he has taught me that I should have no fear, because in the end, the universe is just like Snow White: It always lives happily ever after.
“Spin”—the man I jokingly call “my husband in a future life”—has made a huge impact on this life. He will forever remain a part of my heart.