I'm not a very superstitious person. Aside from insisting that the Cal basketball at the free-throw line is bound to miss, I don't do much to placate the gods. But sometimes I find myself brought up short by an experience that forces me to rethink my agnostic worldview. Yesterday offered an especially powerful example.
I was sitting with a colleague, discussing the difficulty of the past few months. Although my primary focus was my daughter's struggles to deal with the difficulty of being fifteen, I was also reflecting on the ways in which those struggles were brought to a head by the death of Kim's dad. I was about to talk about how I was trying to deal with my own feelings for him, writing about him here over the past week, when my phone rang.
When I looked down to see who was calling and whether I could send that person to voicemail -- I hate interrupting in-person conversations to talk on the phone -- I was surprised to see that my usual screen for incoming calls was absent. Indeed, there was no indication whatsoever that a call was coming in at all. Yet, the phone was definitely ringing.
Thinking that my phone might have locked up, which has been happening more frequently since the latest Android update, I tried everything I could to get control of the phone back so that I could hang up. But nothing worked. Strangely, though, instead of the call going to voicemail, the phone seemed to answer itself, as if it were possessed of a mind of its own.
And then I heard Carl's voice, clear as a bell, informing me of the time and channel for a game we were supposed to watch together. Even more oddly, though this call had to be a recording from before last April, when he first went into the hospital, the time and channel -- ESPN at 6pm -- matched up with the college football BCS National Championship game later that day, one he and I watched together every year during our years in Tucson except for 2007, when he was in the ICU with MRSA pneumonia.
I had been thinking all morning that I would be sad not watching the game with him and wondering whether it would be excessive to write about that feeling right after having written about the 49ers-Packers game the previous day. I couldn't help but think that he was calling, not only to say that he would be watching with me in spirit, but that I needed to acknowledge that our relationship had changed into something that can't be explained by science alone.
It was deeply unnerving, but also miraculous. Later, when I tried to tell Kim about it, she told me that it was more than she could handle. I understand that response. It was very hard for me to maintain my composure in front of my colleague during the experience. But I am very glad it happened.
I recognize, mind you, that from a Mythbusters-type perspective, this uncanny moment can be explained as a by-product of all the ways in which our lives are recorded these days without our ever having to undertake the task in a conscious manner. My phone had clearly been set up, at least for a while, to direct voicemail, which normally expires after a short time, to some sort of archive, though it no longer does so. Carl's call from the beyond was a semi-random glitch, just like when I pull my phone out of my pocket and find it open to an app I haven't selected, even though its touchscreen was supposedly locked.
And yet, despite the plausibility of this explanation, how can I not feel that some higher power, even if it was generated in my own mind, was at work in this experience. It left me feeling shaken, but not in the sense that something bad does. I liken it to what being picked up by a giant might like (or what it's like for our cats to be picked up by us!).