In early Spring, four years after Herb died, I went canoeing with a good friend in Northern Vermont—illegally, as it happened, since it was before the official opening of the season—but the air was soft and the sun warm when we set out, so we chanced it. Wendy is an experienced guide and I was her willing sidekick, so she steered in the stern and I paddled in the bow the way we’d been doing out on the water for years.
This time, however, a storm came in unexpectedly, darkening the skies and whipping the lake into huge waves, threatening to capsize us far from shore, way out of sight of where we’d left the car. Oops!
Riding one breaking wave Wendy pulled a muscle in her back, so it was up to me to get us in mostly by myself, paddling like a madwoman against wild winds, following her instructions to head straight into those high waves, not to let the canoe slip sideways, while she steered with one arm!
We were both in our seventies… How’d we get here?
OK, I figured, we’d drown together in the lake’s icy depths, not a bad way to go when you think about it. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d tempted the Fates, but I’d made it through before, hadn’t I?
And we did, thanks to Wendy steering one-handed in the stern and me powered by pure terror in the bow!
We made it across in one piece, at last scraping bottom at the far shore where we’d left the car, pulling onto a sandy beach in a slanting downpour, dumping ourselves out onto sodden ground and dragging the rain-filled canoe after us.
Bailing out with our hands to lighten the load barely made a dent, as the rain kept coming. Tipping the canoe worked not at all and trying to drag it, full of water, towards the car, was a bad joke. There was nothing to do except leave it beached and get ourselves into the car to warm up for awhile.
Once the rainburst passed we tried again, this time successfully—turning, dumping water and manhandling the heavy canoe in a single motion, and then muscling it up and over onto the roof of the car, Wendy with only one working arm!
However, on the way up I felt something snap in my midriff —heard it snap, in fact! I’d have to deal with that later—it was my price to pay. We managed to get the canoe all the way up, strap it down and get back inside, turning up the heater and stripping out of our wet clothes, shivering and laughing, rather proud of ourselves.
I was not yet in pain…
All the way home we told each other the story in hilarious detail, ready to say it all again to our friends—and my brother back at the farm—and had each other in stitches all the way back to Putney!
We had survived!
A week later in California, in the Emergency Room, I looked at my chest x-ray and couldn’t miss the shadowy blob by my collarbone.
“What’s that?” I asked the doctor.
“That’s the problem,” he replied. “It’s your stomach, my friend, which does not belong there! Would you like to tell me how you did that?”
“You won’t believe me, I swear…” I replied. He just shook his head, so I told him and thankfully, he was kind. Later, after seeing my doctor and a surgeon, it was decided I would not have the surgery but, since a displaced stomach was not necessarily life-threatening, and if I was willing to survive on smoothies, I could live with this. And they sent me home.
That evening after gagging on my smoothie, I lay disconsolate on the couch hungry and hurting, when my friend Christina dropped by. Apparently she hadn’t been aware I’d been away.
“Just checking in,” she said. “I had a feeling you could use some help.”
“How’d you know…?”
“You and I seem to do that,” she replied simply. I pointed to my midriff and told her the story. She then asked, “Isn’t there some kind of abdominal massage ‘thingy’… I forget what it’s called…” Googling “abdominal massage thingy” was impossible, of course, so Christina got me into PJs and bed, a smoothie by my side, sat with me for company and after awhile took her leave.
The next morning she phoned early, her voice excited.
“It’s called Chi Nei Tsang!” She announced from the noisy hallway of the conference she was attending. “The woman sitting next to me is studying it—would you believe? Go look it up!”
Which I did. And found that there were four healers who practiced it in Berkeley, one of whom, with the wonderful name of Jak Noble, had an office right on my street! And I had never noticed. Eleven houses down, I counted. And he had one appointment open for that day!
An amazing synchronicity!
I took a seat in the Waiting Room, quite nervous, and the moment he walked in I think I stopped breathing, because I knew him! I felt I’d known him forever. He seemed to have a similar reaction to me because his eyes widened as he stopped in his tracks, staring! It was the oddest few moments, because neither of us quite knew what to do next. I had to stop myself from blurting out, “Where have you been?” and throwing my arms around him.
I think neither of us had any idea what was happening, but then the moment passed and he came forward, introducing himself and bringing me into the healing room.
I had no idea what had just happened, nor what I should do next. We both sat down awkwardly and said nothing but continued gazing. I think I mentioned that I lived up the street, then he told me about chi nei tsang and began reciting what sounded likeTaoist poetry, but I didn’t register a word. I told him I had torn my diaphragm lifting a canoe over my head in the rain, and I suspect he had no idea what I was talking about either, and neither of us quite knew what to do next. In retrospect, I would say we were both in a state of mild shock, totally incoherent and acting like a couple of idiots.
Gradually, though, we began to make sense, as if we were catching up with one another on our lives since we had last met. Whenever that was! I told him about losing my husband recently and he told me about some difficult relationships he’d had. We talked about our work and he told me that he used to be a Rock musician. Gradually we talked our way into calmer waters, and eventually I settled onto his massage table and presented my aching belly to his warm hands which, I realized from the first touch, were genius hands. I recognized the “true heat” of a genuine healer. This man, whoever he was, could probably heal me…
We had apparently made a mysterious circle through time, but now we were right here where we needed to be, together for healing. I trusted him instinctively and simply put myself into his hands.
I wondered if each of our “guardian angels” were in the room with us—and if they had a sense of humor and had wondered for a long time how to maneuver us together. I imagined one saying to the other, “I have an idea…” and both bursting into angel laughter! After all, we had been neighbors on and off for years and still had not managed to meet in an ordinary way! I took a deep breath, closing my eyes and grateful for the mystery, and sensed that I had just entered a doorway into the rest of my life.
We continued meeting regularly for another two years as the explorations into my past went deeper into unknowns of this lifetime—the fears and harms, the ancestors and the descendants—and I watched his intuitive skills become sharper and more sensitive, as if we were mutual guides in this process—too old to be lovers, but grateful to have found one another again as comrades at the right moment of our lives. It felt to me like a precious gift.
“Do you understand what’s going on?” I asked one day after a session in which I felt myself melting down one more level of feeling into bedrock pain. Was I ready to go there? Breathe. Release. Tears. Memories. If this were a movie, it could be called a tragicomedy. He just stood by my side quietly, one hand lightly resting on my belly, both of us breathing in tandem—then he said simply,
“Magic is real, you know.”
I tell this story because of how many unplanned synchronicities had to happen for us to make our connection, go deep together, and retrieve what must have been a longtime relationship. And heal together, perhaps not for the first time.
It was metaphoric, and we ourselves were the metaphor as every human dilemma is a metaphor of this changing world of ours! Just now, as the world goes through paroxysms literal and symbolic, volcanoes are erupting on islands in the oceans, pouring out hot magma and creating new land in the process. Oceans are responding with tidal waves, and wildlife is figuring out new ways of surviving. We humans, stuck indoors in a pandemic are dreaming up new ways of living, and teaching that to our children even as we discover deeper parts of ourselves and new ways of learning about the world and about the nature of reality.
These are the times we live in, like it or not, even if it strains our abilities to respond: even if the climate changes radically and pandemics take us by storm; even when our financial systems prove they support only the very few, and the environment not at all.
Even when we are terrified of everything from death and taxes to one another; even if we feel unloved and lonely and the oceans are polluted with plastics and the whales are hunted down mercilessly…even if the era we are living in comes to an end and living beings die back into the earth for an era of rest until it is Time to start up again, slowly, miraculously, newly born—hopefully wiser than we are now—it probably would not be happening for the first time.
We have been here and done this before—more than once, I wager.
Even if you and I are on the planet right now on purpose, to help make this difficult transition to the next phase of our history on earth, having been through this before at another time and from another place, finding one another, who knows where or how, learning that our hearts can think at least as well as our brains and our dreams are at least as real as the bus waiting down at the corner.
For help, apparently, is closer than we think and it seems to be right down the street; it has probably been there for years without our knowing, even if it takes a severe shock to wake us up and take notice that we are in this life together, no matter what, and sometimes we have to come close to death before we take notice and find one another in the storm.
In the magic which, as Jak and I now know, is real.