Can a lecture teach us about love?

I went to a Kabbalah lecture this week.

I don’t attend lectures. I don’t like to be lectured to. And I have a hard time sitting still.

But I’ve always been intrigued by it, and rather than guessing, or wondering what exactly Madonna was up to, I figured I’d educate myself. I also have an idea for my next novel, so what prompted me to actually go this time was plain old research.

It was held at the Kabbalah Center, a pretty and informal space in midtown, and the teacher was charismatic and funny. He shared a few stories where the universe offered up signs to his students that provided clarity. 

And then he asked: “How many people here have been in a relationship they regret?” 

Everyone raised their hands.

Except me.

Just because a relationship doesn’t work out, and even when it’s ended badly, I’ve never regretted it. I’ve learned not to regret it.  I work hard (and it is work) to find something new and meaningful in every relationship I’ve been in, including my 14 year relationship with my ex-husband. I was surprised that almost everyone in that room believed otherwise. Maybe the question was a pointed one; maybe the teacher was planning on explaining (if you signed up for the 10 week course) how to view experiences positively.

Then he said, “Turn to a stranger next to you and share your name, profession, and who the first person you fell in love with was and why.”

The girl next to me went first. She didn’t hesitate when she uttered the name of her first love.

But I did. I didn’t have an immediate answer. 

And then I realized, saying it aloud to a stranger, that the first person I fell in love with was my ex-husband.

A sign? Was I there to illuminate an emotion, to embrace something that I didn’t realize until that moment was true?


The next exercise: “Write down the name of the person in your life that pushes your buttons, and why, and share it with the person next to you.”

When the girl next to me showed me the name of the person she wrote down, my mouth dropped open.

I know him.

He is someone I met in the publishing world three years when I wrote my first book, and speak with sporadically.  

And there it was, his name staring me in the face, as I ponder what to do with my first book, and contemplate my second.

Another sign? Or just a coincidence?

It dawned on me that I don’t necessarily need a class to teach me how to see the signs, or little “tells” that life offers. Writers do that on their own. It is how we are built. We open ourselves up to the world and seek to connect seemingly disconnected dots – and ask ourselves what it means (even though it can drive us crazy). I do it in my weekly posts, as I look back on my week and identify the associations between disparate events.

As I am doing here (insert transition).

Later in the week, my parents came into the city to look for some new furniture so I met them at a nearby store as they were trying out a sofa that my Mom liked. My Dad didn’t like the sofa, but we got comfortable on it anyway, and started to chat.

Without getting into the specifics, my Dad wanted to share with me his thoughts on my dating patterns and my stage in life.

My initial reaction: “Oh boy. Here comes another lecture.”

But then I opened my mind, and my heart, and really listened. I learned more about life, self-improvement, and perspectives on relationships from those ten minutes with someone who knows me best, than I could ever get from a class with a room full of strangers.

My father wasn’t giving me a lecture, or trying to get me to sign up for an expensive ten-week course. He was just giving me one thing: Love.

And that makes all the difference.

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?