The woman could not keep from crying. Between tears, she told me that she was returning home to Bengaluru, India, with her young son. Her father had died.
“Was it unexpected?” I asked.
“Yes. Totally,” she replied, breaking into tears again. “I talked to him by Skype just two days ago. He was fine. No illness, no disability.”
We were on an Emirates Air flight from Texas to Dubai. From there, we had a connection to Chennai (formerly Madras), India.
I had worried extensively about having to go through customs in a Arab country, and fretted about contributing to the coffers of the repressive royal family. Though my funny bone was tickled when I found out that Emirates Air will serve you a Kosher meal, I still didn’t like the idea of flying on this airline. The flight was a non-negotiable consequence of going with my tour group.
“Why are you on Emirates Air?” I asked the tearful woman. “It was the best flight I could get on such short notice.” And the tears continued to stream down her face. I have to say that her five year old was more composed. Maybe, having lived far from Grandpa, he wasn’t as distraught. At this point, we had already established that she was from south India, which was also where I was heading. I assumed she’d be on the same connecting flight to Chennai.
“No, I’m going directly to Bengaluru.”
That was a surprise to me. That there were so many people going to south India through Dubai on a given day that there were regularly scheduled flights to multiple cities.
Little did I then suspect that my return trip would be moved up a week, due to a sudden and soon fatal injury to my own mother. It’s funny how the world has a way of telling us that events were already in the making, sometimes long before the actual event. Of course, we humans are pattern making animals, and see patterns, even where they don’t exist. So I am not saying that there aren’t other interpretations of these events. I’m reporting how they felt to me.
About 10 years ago, there was a fire at the building where I had my business. In the months or weeks leading up to that event, someone burned the plastic mail box in front of our house. No other boxes on our street were damaged. And then, one day as I sat down at my desk on entering the office, I noticed an arc coming from the electric plug for my aquarium pump. There was a burn mark, so it was not my imagination. After the main fire, we ended up having to sell the building, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it was very traumatic and stressful.
“Aquarium accessories are a common cause of house fires,” my friend the fire investigator said. “Be sure the plug is not at the low point of the cord, to avoid collecting condensate.” That was news to me. I’d had aquariums for most of 40 years. I immediately made sure to take his advice. The main fire started at a different location. After the big fire, my friend the Spiritualist Minister, Reverend Dan, had a different explanation. “The two small, inconsequential fires were pre-cursor events.”
“Huh?” I asked. “They happened so you would know, after the fact, that the fire was a part of God’s plan.”
I finally understood. That moment was truly the end of linear time for me. We are eternal creatures. We are a result of an infinite web of interconnected events. As the Buddha reportedly explained, the world we experience is a result of dependent arising. There’s no single cause for any event. If I had gone on a different airline, God would have found some other way to let me know that my mother’s pain was coming to an end.
Two small fires preceded a traumatic one. The tears of a woman unknown to me made it clear that God had planned to end my mother’s profound fear of the relentless onset of total blindness.
The tears of the stranger also revealed, in hindsight, that the scheduling problem that kept me from meeting my colleagues in Pune, India, which would have interfered with my being with my father for the funeral, was also an act of God. A kindness in this case, although experienced as a disappointment. It would have been painful to have had to cancel a professional engagement, or do a speaking tour, knowing that my mother was terminally injured. As it worked out, I had only to cut short my vacation.