Elaine: No, no…but it is quite a coincidence.
Rava: Yes, that’s all, a coincidence!
Elaine: A big coincidence.
Rava: Not a big coincidence. A coincidence!
Elaine: No, that’s a big coincidence.
Rava: That’s what a coincidence is! There are no small coincidences and big coincidences!
Elaine: No, there are degrees of coincidences.
Truth is, I have given up my belief in coincidences. Everything has a purpose, a rhyme and a reason to it. It’s quite remarkable that the universe has taught me this lesson during the least rational experience of my entire life, but that’s how it goes.
I was raised a good Catholic boy, and when my wife insisted that we get married in the Catholic church, I wanted it to mean something to me. So I took the time to re-connect with my faith. My overwhelming attitude was one of gratitude for my unblemished existence. I found joy in all the little things, and there were so many little things surrounding me to give me joy.
Of course, that good Catholic faith was derailed when my wife went psychotic. I don’t say that exclusively because we had difficulty. The struggle was not the thing that caused me to question. It was the nature of her delusions. The constant references to the Devil, to Hell, to a God that had forsaken her (“why have you forsaken me?”), the hospital as purgatory, the obsession that she had done wrong and needed to be punished. It was so basely Catholic that it made me disgusted. In fact, it is why I called her Sonya. Her delusional self felt she needed to bear everyone’s suffering to repent for her original sin, just like Dostoesvky’s Sonya does throughout the entirety of Crime and Punishment. When I spent day after day hearing about how God was punishing her, I couldn’t help but to get a mad at God. Who wouldn’t? He was punishing her. She was certain of it. She was mad, so I was too.
And yet at the same time, the universe providing for me. I am a surfer, and I had the greatest season of surfing in my life while my wife was in the hospital. Rolling in the waves, I was finding my feet planted on the ground. I had face-to-face encounters with dolphins, impressionistic sunsets obstructed my anxiety as I watched them from the water, the sun would shine when I needed it to….in general, the Earth felt good while God felt bad. And yet if God is the Creator, isn’t the Earth a way for God to communicate with me?
What has ended up happening over all of this is that my definition of God has expanded quite dramatically. I’m no longer your run-of-the-mill Catholic with a gray-beared, benevolent God. I’m much more in tune with Buddhism, animism, all those other groovy elements of spirituality, but not necessarily orthodox religion. I still identify as a Catholic (remarkably), but quite the atypical Catholic. I guess the best way for me to explain it is to borrow the concept directly from 12 steps: I have a Higher Power. And at times, that Higher Power allows me to see the world the way that he sees it, with all the wheels spinning harmoniously and every detail engineered to remind me that I am cared for and loved. Some people call those moments “coincidences.” I don’t.
So here’s one of the non-coincidences that has really resonated with me. I grew up in Asia, lived there for 6 formative years. My parents moved back about 18 months ago, and over Christmas, 2009, all of my siblings went to visit. We didn’t go, because it was too big of a trip for where we were in my wife’s recovery.
The whole family visited a town littered with gorgeous Buddhist temples on December 31, 2009. At one particularly beautiful temple, my sister grabbed a prayer card, and wrote a prayer for my wife on behalf of my family. She hung it up from its red string on the prayer wall, offering it to the forces that be. People write up these cards all of the time, probably a dozen or so a day. They took a picture, emailed us the picture, and wished us well.
On April 8, 2010, my wife and I were at the same shrine. She had gotten well enough to make international travel possible, and I hadn’t spent close to enough time with my parents during her illness, so we went to visit them. We replicated the trip that my siblings had done, and found ourselves standing in front of the same prayer wall where my sister had wished my wife well.
And we saw the card. Over 3 months later, and it was still there. On a wall that only holds a few hundred prayers, and with dozens of prayers a week getting shuffled through the line-up, it was still there. My wife saw it and started smiling from ear to ear. I saw it and I broke out into tears. I held her close. I thought of where we were on December 31. Everyone was terrified for her. She had stopped her Risperdol and was in withdrawal and was dangerously suicidal and emotional. And on April 8 we were standing on a different continent, yet seeing the love inscribed on a prayer wall in an ancient temple. We were experiencing the spring of her illness. She was getting better. We were with the family that loved us from afar. Everything felt like it was falling into place, so I fell into a heartfelt hug with my wife.
It felt so sad and so good. I felt so alone and so loved. I felt the love of God in my wife’s embrace.