Nothing is more mysterious than a chance encounter. Such an experience for me confirms the existence of some force, greater than myself, providing guidance.
It was a balmy summer’s morning at the shore, my yearly jaunt to Fire Island with the girls. Never wanting to miss a sunrise, I crawled out of bed at the crack of dawn and staggered to the beach. Everything is a little slower on Fire Island. The walk to the shoreline was about 300 steps, each being intentional and deliberate. With each step I noticed the light, shadows, morning dew, the splendor of it all. I could see the boardwalk ahead, a gleaming golden stairway to bliss.
As I approached the walkway I could see someone sitting at the top of the stairs, staring out to the vast blue horizon. I quickly recognized the deflated slump of a teenager, the hunched shoulders, and hanging head, the telltale signs of an unhappy camper. But, how can that be on a glorious summer’s day!
This someone was a girl, probably about 18 years old. What stood out to me was she was covered from head to toe. Her ivory headscarf told me she was Muslim and probably feeling a bit out of place on the beach where nearly naked bodies are the norm.
As I passed I offered a big hello and an acknowledgment of the exceptional day. Her response, a soft grunt. I flashed her a smile and continued to the shoreline.
Only feet from the water I planted myself in the sand and joined darting sandpipers and hermit crabs celebrating the miracle of morning. With one full yogic breath after another I attempted to bank all the energizing beach mojo into my lungs, for future withdrawals, especially during the long, cold Vermont winters. My meditative state was immediately interrupted by the reappearance of the teenager I passed on the boardwalk. On a sweeping beach with maybe only two people within site, this moping teenager walked right up to me and plopped herself down.
A polite conversation began.
“Is this your first visit to Fire Island?”
“Yes”, she said. “I am here with my parents. We are visiting from Egypt, staying in my uncle’s home.”
The usual niceties followed. Mia, was her name, she explained how she was about to start college outside Cario. Then the flood gates opened…
“I hate my father!” She lamented. “He wants me to attend medical school so he can show me off like a prized pony, but I don’t want to go to medical school, I want to become an engineer.”
Mia went on to say she always did what her father wanted, but this time was different. She was sure she didn’t want to go into medicine, but felt trapped. Her mother wasn’t very supportive, she just told her to be a good girl and do what she is told.
It was a story that was all too familiar to me. Fifty years ago, straight out of a New England college, I was offered a job in Palm Beach. I was so excited about the opportunity. I enthusiastically told my father. With his piercing blue eyes and stern demeanor my father told me I would fail at the job, and when I did, not to bother to look to him for help. Ouch! No matter how disheartened I was with his response, I abandoned the job offer and stayed home, like a good girl.
To this day I think of that pivotal moment in my life. If I had defied my father, would my life have been different?
I looked at this young girl and understood her angst.
I explained to Mia that I believed her parents loved her very much and they just wanted what they thought was best for her.
As she wiped her tears, I asked, “Do you feel the energy from the sea?”
She replied, “Yes.”
I said, “Let’s sit here together, with arms outstretched and take it all in.” We giggled at the site of the two of us. For the moment we were two cormorants drying our outstretched wings. We then proceeded to sit in silence.
As we watched the sun rise into the cloudless sky, I gently placed my hand on her back, she didn’t recoil, but instead melted into my palm.
I got up from my seated position, knelt in front of her, and cradled her face in my hands and said…
“First, you are beautiful, and that alone will take you far. Second, it is obvious you are very intelligent, that will take you farther. This, my dear, is your first big test. You must now decide if you want to live your father’s life, or your own. You must lovingly explain to your father medicine is not in your future, then take an unwavering stance for the career that is meaningful to you.”
I asked, “Can you do that?”
Her face lit up as the tears cascaded from her checks. I wrapped my arms around her and gave her a hug as if she were my own child.
She said, “Thank you. I will talk to my father when I get back. I will be strong. I will be strong for you.”
We said our good-byes and with one final hug, I slipped out of her life.
As I walked down the beach I began to cry. How does one explain an encounter of this kind? The connection between two perfect strangers, from two different worlds? The serendipity of a shared predicament? Hearing the exact words I wished to hear so long ago? Questioning whether I gave Mia sound advise, did I empower her or put her in harm’s way?
I don’t have the answers, but I do know it is the mystery, that makes life an ever-fascinating journey.
It’s in the moments we share a kind word, a soft touch, an attentive ear and a warm smile that give life texture and meaning.
Was this just a chance encounter? Unsolicited cosmic guidance? Or just this grand life reminding us both of the wonder and awe of it all.
Live in color,