I have a major life decision approaching within the year. As I stress and worry and try to predict the future, its times like this where I wish believed in signs. I’m jealous of people who do believe; the people who have the answers glittering in front of them as birds and clouds and rainbows. For me, it’s all coincidence.
I was there a short time but Hong Kong seems full of superstitions, traditions and talismans. Smoke from incense billows out of temple doors, fortune tellers line streets, statues of cats wave their paws for good luck, begging that the “money comes” and trees are filled with wishes. As I often do when I travel, I wished so badly that some of this would rub off on me, that I would return more spiritually connected to the future and see the signs. In short, I would land in New York with all the answers.
Vacation optimism dissipated back in the states. New York was monochrome gray, snow still on the ground in March. I even sat next to your grade-A New Yorker in Washington Square Park, who watched bird poop fall from the sky. “There’s nothing lucky about that,” he grumbled. “I went to India and a monkey peed on me, and everyone said: ‘Oh it is a sign, it is good luck,’ and I said 'No it is NOT!'"
Easter came, and Bo took me to Connecticut, where his family was celebrating at their Mill House. His two nieces (ages five and 12) wanted to take us out to the stream to see the Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) a very prized plant that they’d spotted earlier in the weekend.
“It’s a plant,” Bo’s sister-in-law said, “it’s the first sign of spring.”
We toured the gardens and reached the embankment. The girl started to search the grounds closely, sniffing out the Skunk Cabbage.
“We found it!” they screamed, and Bo and I ran over. The Skunk Cabbage’s burgundy leaves were barely peeking out of the grass, as if it didn’t want to be found.
How envious I am of nature! I thought. To have such clear signs, such predictability, such cycles. We humans only have our age to tell us when to do something, and often that betrays us. I wanted so badly to know what was around every corner of my life, especially in light of my upcoming decision.
That night at The Mill we had a big, long dinner, Bo and I lit a fire, and exclaimed how crazy it was to be sitting by a fire on the night before Easter. “Spring seems forever away,” I told myself. In the morning the Easter bunny left gifts for his nieces (by way of yours truly and Jacques Torres). We had breakfast and dyed eggs.
Bo and I needed to catch a train to Philadelphia for Easter Dinner Number Two. It was my first time in Philadelphia, but we did not have time to see the sights, and rushed straight to dinner after viewing the Liberty Bell. We had a lovely Japanese meal at Morimoto. Then I said goodbye to his family, and boarded the train back to New York alone. Bo would stay the night in Philadelphia.
The ride back was smooth until I needed to change trains in Trenton, New Jersey. I went to the platform, and the arrival board read: “New York Penn - All Aboard”. My train, I thought, and hopped inside, the door smoothly shutting behind me. I had a feeling that something was off, the seats were cushier than on my previous New Jersey Transit train, the patrons were asleep or on laptops.
“Is this the train to New York?” I asked.
“Yes, but the Amtrak,” a passenger said. I hopped up and ran to the door, it was locked shut, and the train was leaving the station. I was on the wrong one.
Another girl approached the door. I told her it wouldn’t open. She too, was on the wrong train, and needed to get off.
“It won’t open!” I said.
“Oh we’re fucked aren’t we,” she said. She shrugged her shoulders and decided to hide out on the train. I chose the opposite plan -- I walked to the first train conductor, prepared to be kicked off at the next chicken shack on the route.
“I’m on the wrong train,” I said. “I got on and the door shut and how do I buy a ticket to stay on this train?”
“Mmm,” the man said. “You know what...just stay on this train, on this car, and I’ll look out for you. Don’t worry about it.”
I thanked him, and he smiled, “Happy Easter.”
I sat down next to a sleeping passenger. I thought to myself what a great story to tell my parents -- the late night in New Jersey, the revelation that it was the wrong train, the train leaving the station, the conductor to my rescue! Then it occurred to me in that the best stories aren’t from lives perfectly planned and predicted, but from risk and reward or risk and consequence. Uncertainty is OK. Big, frightening events only sweeten the plot. The answers spoil the ending.
At the subsequent stops the conductor passed through my car, each time giving me a thumbs up and a reassuring nod. For now, everything was going to be alright.