Life is full of little coincidences as we all know. Sometimes though, these coincidences take on the air of something else, something more perhaps, a convergence in the force as a Star Wars fan might say. I had a recent experience like this and I am still not sure what to think about it. I am not a superstitious person by and large but these happenings have given me pause, and so I will share.
I have written a bit before about how hard it is to make a living solely as a musician. I have never been able to do it myself. It may surprise folks just how many musicians these days, even those signed to record deals support themselves with a day job. Well, I work a day job for a company here in Seattle that makes software for libraries. A while back I was asked to travel to the American Library Association meeting in Philadelphia to give a presentation on work I am doing to data mine bibliographic information from aging cataloging systems. As it turns out, It was a bit a of a big deal to be asked to do this. There was definitely an air of needing to sell what we are doing to our intended customers.
I have never had a problem with public speaking, as a musician I have grown to be quite comfortable performing for crowds, even librarians, but I was a bit nervous I must admit. I was not sure what to expect of the ALA Convention as it is called, and to be honest, 42 years old this year, although I have traveled the world with my wife Amy and played more than a few out of town shows in my time, I had never actually been on a business trip.
The night before I was to fly out I was concentrating on what I was going to present at the conference. I was going over my notes, watching weather channel, and the weather was very bad all across the country. It is a long flight from Seatown to Philly. Sleep came late and was restless at best and then it happened, I had a waking dream. I dreamed that I rose from bed and walked to my living room. Sitting on the sofa was my sister, and standing right before me was my mom. My heart started to beat very fast. I fell to my knees. “How could this be?” I muttered. “You died.” She didn’t say anything, she just stood there and smiled, her arms appeared out stretched toward me. I woke up.
It was all so very real. I had not had a dream like that about my mom in years. My mom died drinking and driving in August of 2000 and I had dreams like this and scary nightmares for about 5-6 years after her crash. She was 60 years old at the time, quite young really. With Dad already gone from a sudden heart attack in 1992, my last link to my childhood and all those questions you want to ask when you yourself have kids just wound up going unanswered. You lose a lot when your parents die. You lose a big sense of home. You also lose your best connection to your younger self. It is a feeling of displacement that stays with you. Fortunately I am married to my high school sweetheart, and having that constant love in my life certainly lessened the blow. Life goes on, and we have a very good life here in Seattle. Through time, much thought and my music, wounds healed and the scary dreams mostly have faded away.
I didn’t say anything to Amy about the dream. I didn’t want her to worry any more than she already would be with me on the other side of the country, even if it was only for a few days. So, I got a cab to the airport early in the morning and off I went on my little adventure. Central Philly I have to say, is a very nice place, cool old buildings, museums and nice eateries and fancy cocktail bars. I met up with my dear old friend Keir who is a writer and works a day job in the literary world who was also attending the conference. We had a marvelous time catching up on things over drinks. I had several Philly steak sandwiches, which as you can guess basically taste the same no matter where you are. I climbed the Rocky Steps at the big art museum with the eye of the tiger. I even managed to catch the Reverend Horton Heat play at the Trocadero Theater a few block from my hotel. And oh yes, the talk I gave to the librarians went very well indeed. Maybe I should get into sales.
Sunday morning I attended a few stuffy lectures and walked around the expo floor looking at the publisher booths and whatnot. Afternoon rolled around and it came time to fly home. The taxi from downtown took me through the row-house neighborhoods, over the river and past the oil refineries that ring Philly and on to the airport. I had the window seat and a little old lady sat down next to me. I asked her if she had a nice time in Philly. ‘Just flying through’ she said, and then we began to talk.
She asked what I was doing in Philly, I explained, and then she asked if I was comfortable giving presentations like the one I just gave, and had I done this kind of thing before. I told her it was my first business trip actually, but public speaking was no problem for me as I was a musician. We started talking about my music and she asked about my lyrics and at one point she asked a very deep question, ‘How did I come to be this person I am now, that writes such serious songs and is so comfortable speaking and performing in front of people.’ Well next thing you know I am telling this person I have never met all sorts of things about me and my family, how I had had an accident with my fret hand shortly after losing my Dad in the early 90s and then lost my mom as well, a few years later. All quite tragic circumstances that I don’t normally discuss with anyone besides Amy and a few very close friends.
Grace, my new acquaintance was on her way back to Portland. She recently lost her sister to Alzheimer’s. She explained that many years ago she had also lost a son and a husband in a very short amount of time. Grace showed me pictures of her sisters paintings which were very good. She talked about planning her own last days and worried about her own fate in light of her sisters battle with Alzheimer’s. I told Grace she seemed sharp as a tack to me and not to worry too much. So there we were, two total strangers who had both lost so much, telling each other all sorts of things about ourselves. It was an odd thing indeed, but Grace was a very good listener, and she kept asking questions that for whatever reason, in the moment, I was only too happy to answer.
She told me when she was young she wanted to be a performer. She grew up in NYC and danced ballet. My mom was a ballet teacher in Missoula for many years. She was a very gifted dancer herself by any measure. Had she not met my dad in a chance encounter at the magazine rack in the old Florence hotel in Missoula she most certainly would have stayed in NYC and turned pro. My mom studied and danced ballet in NYC in the mid to late 50s. Wait for it. So did Grace. Grace studied at the Joffrey School of Ballet. Wait for it. So did my mom. I remembered my mom’s many stories about her time there. So I ask you, what are the chances of that?
As we descended into Seatown, Grace took down my contact info including the URL for this blog. I am hoping she gets a chance to read this. I walked off the plane a little shaken wondering what had just happened. Did I just make a fool of myself telling this woman I just met all these things about me? Was that a normal interaction I just had?
Grace didn’t remember my mom, but I wonder if my mom would have remembered her. If all there was to the story is that I met a lady who danced at the same school my mom did long ago, that would be one thing. But what of the dream I had had just 3 days before?
I called my aunt Val, my mom’s sister, as soon as I got home to confirm that yes indeed she and mom had both studied at the Joffrey School of Ballet in NYC. I told her about the dream I had just before I left on the trip. I learned a few things. My aunt remembers a lot of her dreams too. She also has had many dreams about conversations with her mom and dad, that she felt were just too real to discount as mere residual thought or unresolved feelings, and I must say so have I.
How to make sense of all this? There is a new show on TV about family members that come back from the dead called Resurrection, maybe I should check that out. I am not a religious person at all, but don’t let that discount my spiritual nature. It is a big universe out there with a lot of reality that we might never understand. You always hear people refer to their lost loved ones as being right there with them watching over them seeing what they see. Perhaps I should go to Arizona and seek out a medium, someone with really big crystals.
But could it be that the spirit of my mom sensed just how nervous I was about my business trip? Did she come to me in my dream beforehand to give me comfort, knowing she could not be there herself? Did she pull some cosmic string that sat Grace, a kind warmhearted former Ballerina, next to me on the plane for me to talk to as well? If you would be so kind as to indulge me. Let’s just say yes. I have a Guardian Angel, it is my Mom, I love her and I miss her so very very much.
And that is all for now.