My journal entry for Saturday, October 22, 1983 begins, “I met someone very interesting last night.”
Eighteen months earlier I’d left my job in Minnesota to go vagabonding around the United States. I had been feeling stagnant, and wanted to shake things up: see new places, meet new people, have new experiences. Eventually that journey took me to Miami, to stay a while with my friend Jim Bowery. There the two of us hatched an idea to start a business, and in the spring of 1983 we packed up and moved to San Diego to connect with a mutual friend who was interested in our idea and had a couple of spare bedrooms in his house.
While I’d put my constant rambling on hold and settled, for the time being, into one place, I was still very actively exploring and seeking new experiences. So it was that when I came across a flyer advertising a free “psychic healing” lecture and demonstration by someone called Sister Sarita at the Taoist Sanctuary of San Diego, naturally I was curious enough to go.
When I arrived for the event, a handful of people were there, wandering around the large hall, looking at photos of Tai Chi masters practicing their art, and waiting for something to happen. At some point I found myself standing next to a woman with long brown hair, both of us looking at the same picture, and we began one of those polite conversations you have in such situations. We had both come to this event out of a similar curiosity.
If Sister Sarita had shown up just then and begun her presentation, that might have been the end of this story. But the appointed time for the psychic healing demonstration came and went, with no Sister Sarita, and nobody else there who seemed to be taking charge. So we were left to our own devices, and the casual conversation I’d begun with this brown-haired woman continued. At some point we sat down on the floor and began comparing notes about what we’d been doing in San Diego over the past few weeks. Her name was Victoria. She had arrived recently from Boston, to begin a holistic massage training program at IPSB, the Institute for Psycho-Structural Balancing.
You can probably guess where this is heading.
We chatted for an hour, and discovering that we had a lot of interests in common, we exchanged phone numbers and agreed to talk again soon. We began dating, and within a few months we were living together. We were married in 1985, moved back to Minneapolis shortly thereafter, and in 1990 our son Ben was born.
My relationship with Victoria was never easy, and in 1999 we split up. But being Ben’s dad continues to be one of the greatest joys of my life.
One never knows for sure, but it seems likely that if Sister Sarita had never scheduled that appearance at the Taoist Sanctuary – or if she had actually shown up at the scheduled time and not left Victoria and me to randomly encounter each other while waiting for the program to begin – then my life would not have taken the turn it did at that juncture, and Ben would never have been born.
Of course, that chance encounter in San Diego in 1983 was only one occurrence in an infinite chain of events, beginning, I suppose, billions of years ago when the Big Bang brought the universe into existence. Even within the brief span of my own lifetime I could point to countless instances where I might have made a trivially different choice, or external events might have taken a slightly different turn, sending my life down a very different path.
And that’s just within my life, a minute speck in the history of everything. At the beginning of time, what were the chances that I would ever exist? This leads into unanswerable questions about free will and the nature of the universe (deterministic or not?)
But each of us has a story we tell ourselves about where we came from and how we got to where we are now. From our extremely limited human perspective, we identify certain pivotal moments when a particular “chance” event sent our life veering off in a direction it would not have taken otherwise.
Who’s to say we’re wrong? Who’s to say we’re right?