“Find a quarter. Forget a towel. Marvel at the mystery!” OK, it’s not exactly a haiku. Which isn’t surprising, since I can never remember the rules for making a haiku. Still, a haiku is just a pointer. Words gesturing toward what is outside the reach of words. That’s all I’m trying to do, as are we all, aren’t we? Trying to grasp the ungraspable via glimpses of the unseen.
On my way to get a slice of pizza Saturday I saw a man sitting on the bench outside the Court Street Starbucks. He was holding a guitar case. Walking by him, I noticed something shiny on the sidewalk. A quarter! My lucky day. Bending to pick it up a casually-connected thought skitters across my mind. “Street musician…guitar case…quarter on the sidewalk…bad toss…mine or his or nobody’s?” Faint twinge of guilt, nowhere near enough to stop me from putting the quarter in the change pocket of my hip bag.
On my way to the meeting of my meditation group Sunday I realize that I’ve forgotten to put a towel in my exercise bag. No time to drive home. Bummer! I hate to pay the Courthouse Athletic Club for something I can bring myself for free. Sitting in my car at the club parking lot I rummage through my change pocket. Fingering every corner, a handful of coins emerges. “25, 30, 40, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50!” Just enough. On to the front desk. “I forgot a towel; managed to scrape together 50 cents to rent one.”
“No, don’t worry about it. Here’s a towel.” “Well, thank you.” Hmmmmm. That’s interesting. Have only forgotten a towel a handful of times all the years I’ve been a member of the club, but have always had to pay 50 cents for the privilege of not putting my clothes on over a wet body. Oh, well. On to the stairmaster and the weight machines. Sweat…sweat…sweat. All done. Look out the window. Great, still a warm sunny day. Which reminds me: got to mow and edge the lawn before it rains again—otherwise will get back from vacation to find foot-tall grass. No need to shower, will just get all sweaty again after I get home.
“Here’s the towel back. Never used it.” The front desk girl puts it back on the stack of clean white folded towels she had picked it up from a hour or so ago. I walk back to my car feeling that nothing special just happened. Also, that something special had just happened. And what was most special was that I had no idea whether I had just experienced anything special.
Isn’t the greatest miracle the fact that miracles are so miraculous? That life is so well-ordered, the laws of nature so dependable, the exceptions to the rule so difficult to discern. Whatever is going on here, it is spectacularly produced, directed, and casted. The Cosmic Playwright has fashioned a drama that is so seamless you can’t distinguish the actors from the audience, the script from the improvisations, the auditorium from the lobby. And yet…I can’t help but feel that there is more to the role that I’m playing than I’m aware of. And the same is true for each of us.
Finding a quarter that gives me just enough loose change to rent a towel that I end up not having to pay for and which I never really needed. Who can fathom the twists and turns in the plot of this complexly-scripted production called “Life”? I’m still enjoying the new Fox series “Wonderfalls” because it tackles head-on that ever-so-intriguing question.
In the last episode Jaye encounters a nun trying to leave her convent and to avoid the priest aiming to bring her back into the fold. Sitting down at a table with the nun and the priest, one of Jaye’s animal figurine companions speaks to her. “Bring her back to him. Bring her back to him.” Jaye has learned to listen when a figurine speaks. The problem, though, is understanding what she hears. First idea: “Oh, you want me to bring her back to Him—God.” Second idea: “Oh, you want me to bring her back to him—the priest.” Good ideas. Both wrong.
But right and wrong don’t matter in “Wonderfalls.” And neither do they matter in life, I’m beginning to strongly suspect. Whatever hidden mysteries lie under the surface obviousness of life, I’ll bet they don’t come with labels of “right” and “wrong.” These are human inventions, not the way the cosmos has operated for at least the past fourteen billion years (and likely much longer).
By the end of the episode we see the priest reunited with the daughter he never met, fathered before he became a priest. “Ah, bring her back to him,” Jaye muses, as she watches the priest hold the girl in his arms. He is the one who ends up leaving the church, while the nun returns to the convent. Go figure. All’s well that ends well. And I believe all truly does end well, every time. We just don’t have the ability to comprehend the cosmic equations that continuously calculate what is to happen next, and why.
Found quarters. Forgotten towels. Marvel at the mystery.