Mirari is the Latin word for miracle, meaning to wonder. As a miracle chaser, it is an occupational habit for me to wonder and it is no surprise I was drawn to an article in the NY Times a few weeks ago entitled, "Is that Jesus in Your Toast?" In addition to learning a new word - pareidolia (seeing something significant in ambiguous stimuli), I learned that someone sold a ten year old grilled cheese sandwich on eBay for $28,000 because it bore a striking resemblance to the Blessed Mary. The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction comes to mind, but the article also got me, well, wondering...
A few years back I met a woman after one of our talks, who told me about a strange experience she had one day when she was at her lowest point, lying in bed hoping to recover from ovarian cancer. Staring at the light on her ceiling, something she had done countless times before, she suddenly recognized the image of Christ in the contours of the crystal chandelier. Though she was not religious, she decided to pray. Later, she saw the same image in the grains of wood on her oak closet doors. Since her recovery, she has been unable to see the images again. To me, this is such a beautiful illustration of a miracle as a sign: of help for the asking, of Divine connection for the taking.
Frederick Buechner said that "A miracle is when the whole is greater than the sum of its parts...when one plus one equals a thousand." Our word of the day, pareidolia, if used in this story might reduce a miracle to its lowest common denominator, a state where the concept of miracle is lost, where one plus one equals zero. It is true, one must look beyond the cold, hard surface of a chandelier or a closet door, add the observer and her experience to the mystery of Divine presence, in order to find the miracle and then add what happens next: faith with a new dimension, an altered perception of what is possible, even the forging of a new spiritual journey. As we learned in our own journey, miracles go on, creating anew. The idea that a miracle is a thousand times greater than what you start with speaks to why a personal miracle changes who you are, continuing long after the experience is over.
Years ago as the three of us sat on Joan's living room floor, sharing the most recent miracle minutia and jewels we had discovered, I announced I had read that maybe St. Paul had frontal lobe epilepsy, which caused his conversion experience on the road to Damascus. Meb's response is one I will never forget, "Given he was the most prolific writer in the early church, does that make it less of a miracle?"
Her comment was an epiphany to me because I was guilty of dissecting miracles, stripping them of mystery, reducing them to the sum of their parts. No surprise, it also got me wondering... why wouldn't God use the tools at hand, chandeliers, wood doors, even epilepsy? Natural explanations for famous miracles throughout history can be found, the parting of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds as some say) or the Star of Bethlehem. Like the woman in the story above, maybe she saw what she needed to see, but does that mean it wasn't really there? Does that make it less of a miracle?
I wonder if there is a miracle language available to us when we are at our most desperate or afraid, a "sign" language, so to speak. Lately, we've been hearing about miracles that come in the form of words (literally) clear commands to STOP at an intersection to avert a tragic car accident, a "healing dream" with specific instructions to cure chronic pain, the message "to love" in order to save a troubled marriage...I wonder if this is like God saying prayers for us when we don't know enough to say them for ourselves. Or, if our "spirit guides" alert us to danger or give us direction in order to heal.
I've been chasing miracles now for nearly fifteen years and still, I wonder. Each new story someone shares adds to the miracle conversation and connection enriching the stories we've heard before.
The grilled cheese sandwich, by the way, was purchased by an online casino that planned to use it to raise money for charity...one plus one equals a thousand? I wonder...(Katie)
I admit it: I am addicted to all things Roman. Some might think it is because of my deep Italian roots, or perhaps it is tied to the relative safety of reading, instead of living, some of the world's best real life adventure stories, or maybe it's my fascination with the level of political intrigue and espionage that would make even House of Cards addicts blanche. Regardless of the reason, I become completely engrossed in books detailing the history of the Roman Empire even though it fell more than a millennia ago. I am always struck by the reality of how fear and jealousy coalesced on that fateful day, the 15th of March 44 BC, to wreak havoc on the future of Rome. The take away for me is not only the changing of the guard that transpired, but Caesar's fateful words, "Et tu, Brute?" challenge me to think about relationships in a new way. Brutus was a friend, a political rival perhaps, but none-the-less someone Caesar trusted (in as much as Caesar trusted anyone). Brutus knew Caesar well: his foibles, eccentricities and ambitions, but also his passion and commitment to expanding the glory and grandeur of Rome. How horrifying it must have been for Caesar to see his friend among his murderers.
For Caesar and Brutus there was no going back. For most of us though, the dissolution of a friendship is not quite so absolute or final. Perhaps it was a thoughtless comment or a series of slights or even a misunderstanding (hard to rectify since each party knowsthat they understood exactly...) that causes a relationship to unravel. There is certainly no benefit to continuing an abusive relationship or trying to befriend a narcissistic (seemingly epidemic at the moment) or selfish person. Life is too short. But not all dissolved relationships are quite so black and white, some just die of neglect or take someone-for-grantedness.
In writing The Miracle Chase, we had opportunities where it seemed easier to take our marbles and go home. Sometimes our feelings were hurt when one of us lacked the understanding or ability to communicate with each other in a sensitive way. As we think about what made our venture successful, we recognize that the notion of Generosity of Spirit was the secret sauce that kept us on track. In writing about miracles, we knew the subject was bigger than we were, so we had to be bigger too. Instead of giving up or taking our wounded ego home, we checked it at the door. We stayed and spoke honestly to each other about how we were feeling and why we reacted a certain way to work though the hurt to find a new understanding. As a result we were able to forge a deeper relationship with one another. Our friendship has gone on to sustain us, not only in our ten years of writing, but now, in the three plus years of speaking and writing since the book was published. It has not always been easy to continue to grow in our relationship with each other; life is busy with demands of work, family and the myriad of activities of our daily lives. And yet, I know making this effort has resulted in the survival value C. S. Lewis envisioned.
It seems ironic that those we love and care about are the only ones who can truly wound us and it is here that exercising Generosity of Spirit sometimes seems hardest. Whether it is our patience that wears thin or we become trapped in seeking a warped view of loyalty or perfection, our human flaws can get magnified instead of smoothed over. While it is too late for Caesar and Brutus, perhaps we can learn from their drama. As we look to the rebirth of spring, I hope to be brave enough to take the chance to rekindle a lost relationship, to go deeper in a current one, or to simply "reach out and touch someone" (harkening back to a gentler time than "Can you hear me now?") By being more attentive to my words and actions, by checking my ego at the door and by being full of a generosity of spirit that is honest and non-judgmental, I'm hoping I just might resurrect a dead relationship or find a new one. I bet you could too. (Joan)
Lately I've been working on trying to hear the quiet, persistent, nay shall I say, impatient whispers from my Soul. I don't mean the kidney-shaped soul of my Catholic school youth that turned grey over time, but whitened up brilliantly after I made a good confession. (That's how I imagined my soul: how did you imagine yours?) This soul is at the core of me, the deepest part of me, my true self, the who-I-am-born-to-be. It may seem like it's a little late in my life to be listening for my path but the truth is, for the first time, well, really ever, I am not responsible for anyone else's happiness and well-being but my own. Other nudges telling me to pay attention right now include that I am going to be celebrating a big birthday in a month; that March 1 was my mother's birthday and the day my father passed away last year; and, as if to underscore how important it is for me to stop and listen, one of my dearest friends was in a serious, life-threatening accident this week, hit while walking in the crosswalk with the light, by a shuttle bus! How short, how changeable, how fragile life is! My soul purpose calls me, of that I am sure, but to what direction?
In Miracle Chase language: "Everybody has a Job" and perhaps, we have more than one in a life time. I believe that we each have a Divine purpose on this planet. So, I get quiet and I ask myself, "Meb, what is your true calling, your job right now?" Silence. There is no Miraclevision, no two by four on the side of the head awakening. Life feels like fog. Never a good navigator, relative to this soul-searching question, I'm clearly driving around in the dark.
I'm not scared, though maybe I should be. It pains me to say it, but I understand that by some standards I am lost. It doesn't make me feel any less anxious or more secure to see that many of my friends seem to be finally at the top of their professions or retiring. Others are planning weddings; some even have grandkids they spend a lot of time with. Lots of folks are taking those exotic trips they've planned for the last ten years. Me? - and I am not whining about this, just noticing where I am - I am single at sixty, longing for the love of my life. I am piecing together a work life after reentering late without the required "social network" and I realize, every day, I have splinter skills that over qualify me in some ways, but lack some basic skills (including a thick skin) that I might have acquired by now had I stayed in. I am the port in the storm for my kids, so my house is like the docking station on the Enterprise (and for you hip readers, the Galactica) - they fly in, they fly out, though landing for shorter periods of time. Is there anybody else out there who is struggling to make sense of this time in life like me? With a nod to Erica Jong, I swear this isn't about Fear of Flying, it's fear of losing my bearing and never being able to land again.
The feeling of not knowing was getting so painful, so empty, so out of my control because it isn't something that is coming from my head, that I ran out and got a shelter dog. That's right. Now I have something I seriously need to take care of so I don't have to feel all this angst. Cleo, short for Cleopatra, is so traumatized from being on the street that she takes one piece of kibble from her bowl at a time and runs to eat it under the dining room table. She cries when she can't see me, and that's when I am home!
I get it. I see this pattern of running for cover in the familiar feeling of something needing my attention out there. And I also see how sheltering the shelter dog is in a way an obvious symbol of wanting to shelter myself in here - in my soul and heart. I cry, I whine, I beg when I can't see myself in the life I am living, feel my purpose in the work I am doing, find my true calling. Could someone please take me for a walk???
As I write this newsletter, it is the day after Valentine's Day - the day I'll call Valentine's Day Recovery Day (You single or neglected people know what I am talking about). If you think about it, life is one mysterious love story. As the mystic poet Rumi says,"Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along." To put it another way, it would be so easy to try to forget about the fog and fall in love, out there, even for just a day. But I am standing firm: I've got to trust that "not all those who wander are lost" (thank you J.R.R.Tolkien). Maybe I just need to wander more purposefully. Finding and falling in love with my true nature and purpose means I'll eventually be my own Soulmate and as Joanie would say, that's a good thing. (Meb)
There was an iconic movie more than twenty years ago, City Slickers, about coming of (middle) age. In one scene, Mitch and Ed commiserate with their friend Phil whose life has derailed, by reminding him of a game they played as kids. Whenever the ball would go over the fence, they would yell, "Do Over!" Phil's life was a do over, they told him. January gives me that same feeling - I feel like the slate is wiped clean and "it's a do over." Rather than focusing on the pressure of making - and keeping - Resolutions, I see the Do Over as an opportunity to build on something good, maybe by taking a few steps back first, and approaching from a different vantage point. Beginning anew.
Joan creates an intriguing visual in The Miracle Chasewhen she calls the three of us "the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker" in a boat on a calm sea, or at least I read it as calm at the time. With Joan's motto that "You can sleep when you are dead", Meb's "Work like everything depends on you, pray like everything depends on God" and my "Go Big or Go Home" let's just say the sea was not always calm. So, when the three of us took the opportunity to reflect back on the miracle chase journey, we asked ourselves how it is we kept faith in our goals and in each other for ten years. Turns out the characteristics we developed as Miracle Chasers are also the hallmarks of good friendships and collaborations of all kinds.
We all have stories that define us. By sharing my own story, one I had long kept quiet,I understood something Leif Enger wrote in Peace Like a River, "People fear miracles because they fear being changed, though ignoring them will change you also." I believe this is true of all kinds of stories, not just the miracle variety.
A few years ago, still new to NYC, my friend Lee and I went to lunch with Andy, a woman I had recently met in our building gym. (Lee and I had met in a corporate apartment laundry room the year before, which must establish some new pattern, now that the children are grown, of where I meet my friends!) No sooner had we sat down to lunch than Lee, soul sister that she is, announced, "Katie wrote a book about miracles and you should hear her story...Katie, tell her your story..." We were in the final stages of the manuscript, deadline looming, so the book had not yet been published and I was not yet used to telling my story outside of a small circle of friends and family. This seemed like a relatively safe opportunity. After hearing my story, Andy began to tell us about the strange happenings leading immediately up to and after the death of her father. When she finished, she looked up and said, "Wow, I don't think I've ever told that story before...outside of the family, anyway."
"You give people permission." Andy later told me. As it turns out, miracle stories, in particular, give people permission to open up about their own extraordinary experiences, magical moments, or coincidences that defy logic. Andy became a friend, at first reluctant that she, a high-powered, successful business woman, should admit to believing in such stories, much less telling them. "What would people think?" She wondered.
Brenee Brown calls stories, "data with a soul." She isn't referring to miracle stories, per se, but she recognizes that we connect with each other through story. It takes courage to reveal something about ourselves because it leaves us vulnerable. The "what will people think?" is a common lament. Yet, without this connection, we stay superficial and so do our relationships. Being only "Facebook Friends" comes to mind - controlling image and snippets from our lives. There is no depth, no "soul" in staying on the surface.
Sharing our "story" with someone breaks down barriers and builds trust. Listening in turn, empathic listening, to someone else's story develops compassion. The experience of feeling understood allows us to see our own stories differently and on a deeper level. We are enriched in the process. Practicing the art of sharing pieces of ourselves has an added benefit because compassion becomes easier the more we share common experiences. It reinforces the knowledge that everyone, indeed, does have a story, even though we may never know it. As C.K. Chesterton said, "We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea and we owe each other a terrible loyalty." This is closer to the truth of the boat the three of us traveled in, the one Joan envisioned.
It is no accident that Telling Stories is Chapter One of The Miracle Chase. It is how the three of us first connected. What is unexpected is what happened next, how opening up to each other began to create deeper meaning, peeling back layers we didn't know existed around our own stories. Here we are years after the telling, still connecting the dots. (Katie)
I have been called the Energizer Bunny, memorialized in a metaphorical poem as Thing 1 and Thing 2 and often badgered for my nonexistent sleep habits. While I would counter that I actually do love vegging on the couch watching old sitcoms on, I am more energized by developing a connection with those that I meet. It is true that I might be pushed harder if I worked out with a trainer at the gym, but I would miss the camaraderie, the smiles and groans, and the joint sharing of life events that occurs in my group exercise classes. I am always game for a walk or a conversation, even if it means my work continues well after midnight or I need to take a business call at 5 am. Some people think I am crazy or don’t need much sleep, but making time to deepen my relationships is my passion.
When we set out to write The Miracle Chase, it was all about empowering others to think about the miracles in their lives. We had no idea of the gifts that would return to us as others brought us into their lives by sharing their own stories. It has always been these personal narratives that draw me in. I am one of those people who rarely forgets a nuanced past experience someone generously shares with me. It was probably not surprising that as part of our miracle journey I wanted to look at a myriad of the world’s cultures and religions to find the stories that drive others to believe. It is here at the intersection of the natural and supernatural shared by all that I found the similarities of purpose and the common threads that unite people and give me hope.
Because we have moved so often (7x and counting) I never had the luxury of taking for granted the friends I have found along the way. The connection and time I spend with friends, who date back to my grade school years, empowers me to continue to make the real effort it takes to develop new friendships. I still find that the unexpected gifts that ensue are so rewarding that they more than make up for the late nights or early mornings required to fit in the rest of my life.
A short time ago, I finally had the opportunity to go for a walk with a neighbor who has become one of my new California friends. Not only is she lovely and smart, but she too has recognized the importance of taking time to make and develop new friendships. As she was guiding me through the wooded paths in the forest where we live (a first for me as, raised in a city, I had been too timid to enter alone), we chatted about our families and our roots. I told her of my birthday celebration trip to Italy where I connected with my Italian cousins (the bulk of my family never immigrated to America) and she shared with me her travels back to Poland, the land of her grandparents. As we were talking and walking amid the sun-dappled trees ahead of the impending sunset, she shared with me an experience she had on her first visit to Rzeszow a few years before.
In this small town in eastern Poland near the Ukraine, there was a lively family dining establishment owned by a local Jewish family. With the invasion of the Nazis in 1939 all that changed as, whether as prisoners or refugees, the family had to abandon the restaurant. Later multiple bombings destroyed the town’s municipal and important community buildings, including the Temple. In the aftermath of the war the Russians came in and all property was seized by the State. Poverty, the kind that the vanquished seem always to experience postwar, was rampant and for the next forty years my friend’s family eked out a mere sustenance living. Things changed in Poland in the 80’s with the country’s gradual escape from Communism and in the late 90’s the new Polish government sold off the once prosperous restaurant property to Zygmunt, the cousin of my friend. He paid the government what it had asked, but as he worked to renovate the establishment, he considered the family who had owned it back in the halcyon days before the war. Though Zygmunt went to the rabbi to find the family, it was useless as bombs had destroyed any records of ownership and the prior owners were, like so many others, tragic and nameless victims of a war that claimed 90% of Polish Jews. Feeling a link with his kindred restaurateur and as a means of respect and tribute for all they had endured, Zygmunt, this non-Jew, kept the name of the original restaurant and brought a check in equal amount of his purchase from the State to the Rabbi for use in the new synagogue.
I love hearing stories like this. And even though the couch is looking more and more appealing as I passed a landmark birthday this Thanksgiving, it’s like the manna from heaven that fed the bodies of the Israelites wandering the desert. In my own wandering this earth these stories sustain me - nourishing my soul and fueling my desire to maintain the effort of developing new relationships. To me, this story is the perfect holiday gift - nothing was asked, nothing was expected. It was truly “the reaching out of the self to one’s fellow man…” It gives me goose bumps. (Joan)