Signs. Are they real? Or do we just want them to be?

We hear it all the time. It’s a sign! The universe is talking to me! But how? By singing to us at bedtime, or as a little voice in our heads?  I don’t believe that the universe speaks to us all in one “universal” language that can be easily studied or decoded. It speaks to each of us personally, in different ways, and not with sounds or words.

But only if we choose to pay attention. When we are abruptly woken from our stubborn slumber and our ears and heart are suddenly trained to listen. I know it sounds hokey to some (I can hear you men snickering). “Universe” is a term my dad uses only when referring to an article he read in the NYT science section.

That’s not the universe I am referring to here. I’m talking about the one that intercepts us, that throws a lens onto our skewed perspective, that tests our resolve. The one that shows itself in countless tangible ways, and yet it is inside the intangible where its transformative meaning can be derived.

Like when you’re thinking about someone from your past with whom you have unresolved issues – an ex most likely – and then as you’re walking home alone, that person appears on the street, walking towards you. Does your heart race and pulse quicken? Or do you feel calm, knowing that you could handle whatever that encounter may bring? Whether you interact with this person or what is said at this point is irrelevant. Because the universe has already spoken. It happened in that moment where you stopped to consider how you feel.

For me, these signs have been abundant over the past several years. I’ve run into my ex-husband at what I call critical intervals, when I needed to pay attention to something that I was ignoring. Once, it was in a restaurant window in greenwhich village, when I was feeling lonely and nostalgic. I didn’t choose to keep walking; I chose to stop, and tap on the window. He turned, and then to my surprise, a girlfriend of mine – who I didn’t realize even knew him – ran out to confront me before he could, to explain why she was having dinner with him. This was a friend with whom I had been sensing a dull strain, where I would leave our outings feeling depleted, and yet I ignored it. This friend anxiously explained what she was doing there, but what she said didn’t stick. It couldn’t stick, because this moment, to me, wasn’t about explanation, or jealousy, or anger. It was about the universe kicking my sleeping subconscious awake, telling it – telling me- that this friendship was an unhealthy one, and that I needed to acknowledge it. It wasn’t actually about my ex at all; he was just the vehicle, one that I would definitely stop and take notice of. Sometimes, when the words on our signs are too tiny to read, the universe rewrites them. In big bold letters.

Some signs have come through Facebook (Yes, I’m invoking Facebook…take a moment to recover). But isn’t it inevitable that tangential contact with random people from our past, may suddenly crop its head up in defining moments? Like the time I had fearfully set a shaky foot on the path of reinvention, searching for my creative voice, and got a random message from a guy who had been in my Freshman dorm. He wrote that he saw a painting in Art Forum magazine that reminded him of a piece I had painted way back then, that inspired him. I didn’t remember it, but he did. And he, or the universe, in the moment I must have needed it most, made sure to remind me.

There are bigger ones of course – of divine intervention. A friend of mine’s father died recently. On the day of the funeral, her husband found out that his mother, who had been waiting for a new liver, after years of pain and despair, had miraculously found a donor.

A few years ago, shortly after moving back to NY, I was sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park on a sunday afternoon. It was not yet spring, and I was writing in my journal, feeling despondent, and brainstorming ideas for my book which had not yet been written. A butterfly suddenly appeared and flew back and forth along the long bench, as if it was searching for a place to sit. And then, out of all the other people or places, it chose me. It hovered over my open journal, and then settled onto it.  It stayed there for several minutes, comfortable in my lap. People were in awe, as was I. Although I still haven’t figured out the hidden meaning behind this.  Did the butterfly know I needed a pick me up? Or that I am obsessed with its species? Maybe it was flirting with me. Or, maybe it was just attracted to the bright white of my journal pages.

I was prompted to recall these auspicious encounters today because I’m in LA, where I used to live, and so I inevitably revisit my past.  And sometimes it visits me.  I ran into two former colleagues yesterday, whom I hadn’t seen since exactly three years ago to the day; the day the bottom of my life had dropped out. Since then, our lives have taken different paths. They are now married with children. And I am not. Again, it wasn’t as much about seeing them as it was about how I felt inside while speaking with them. This time, I didn’t listen to them wistfully, wishing for what they had. Instead, I listened to them with a fondness, an openness, and suddenly recognized that I’m okay… more than okay…to be in the exact place I am today.

So, are the signs real? Or are we trying to turn nothing, into something?

Does it matter?