We call them dots. Their stories are one of the ways my husband got to know me in our early days. I would say, “You want to hear something wild that happened?” He would get quiet and listen intently as I’d tell him about the strings of seeming coincidences that added up to meaning beyond each step. The more I told him, the less shy I would get about sharing myself and what I had seen, the more he’d understand of my experience and lean in to love me.
Many times, the meaning related directly to us. Before I met my husband, I was a flight risk in relationships. To share with him these synchronicity trails that, invariably, led me to be still and remain present in the arms of this man, became a part of our relationship’s deepening.
I’ll tell you many of my breadcrumb stories as this column unfolds. And I’ll share whatever I know about how to spot them, how to focus in on life telling you something bigger than what at first seems there. But first I want to tell you about the most recent one I followed.
Like a lot of synchronicity trails, this one started years ago, in childhood, in the face of a false ruby ring.
Its adjustable band pinched my finger and its gold-colored metal quickly turned gray; but the face of that plastic ruby was magic. Faceted, flat-surfaced, darkest red, it picked up light and reflected its environment from yards away. I found this out on one of countless Saturday mornings, sidelined at another soccer game of my brother’s, and bored beyond capacity. The ring on my hand flashed like a mirror, but when I looked at it, it was a blur of light. I discovered that if I fuzzed my vision while looking at the tiny blur, it would come into focus, and I could see a perfect, crystal clear reflection of something happening yards away from me.
Shy child. Quiet observer of life happening around me while rarely with me. Tongue most often firmly in cat’s grasp. This discovery thrilled me nearly out of my mind. I had a secret. I could stare down at my ring, and spy on the teenaged couple on the bleachers, without them knowing I could see them kissing and sneaking touches. I could look like I was lost in my own world, and yet watch the players run by, chasing the ball’s reflection in my ring, ref whistle tweeting after them.
I instantly loved the mirror world I escaped into. It captured my imagination. It made me confident in something only I knew. I felt like I belonged somewhere, without argument.
Rubies are my birth stone, and scarlet was my favorite color, so I had an extra affinity for the deep red rock. When I turned 16—long after the band on my spy gem had finally broken apart, pinching my finger one last time and passing into memory—my new sister in law, Joyce, was studying to be a jeweler, and got me the most remarkable gift I’d ever received: a real ruby ring with a real gold and diamond swirl. Eventually, that special ring, too, found its way out of circulation; but, when I got married for the first time, 25 years later, I wore it with my red-flowered dress. That day, on my other hand, my husband would place the band he’d proposed to me with, a continuous circle of square rubies and tiny diamonds.
We have talked many times, my husband and I, about getting a ring to go with the engagement band. We’ve looked at options over time, but there’s always something more important to spend the money on. On a morning last week, before tea, before shower, the time of morning when my mind is uncombed and all over, I thought about the Sweet 16 ring Joyce gave me. We had agreed earlier that it and my engagement band would not fit together as a set, but I wondered it again. Reeling, we had found out the weekend before that Joyce suddenly died, after an illness most of us thought she would beat. Joyce loved weddings. She featured prominently in ours. The ring set would be a tribute, I thought …And then knowing that it wouldn’t be, I let the thought go.
It was later that afternoon, I sat at my desk in turmoil. While my brother and his family are usually the hearth around which the rest of the family gathers, they balance that with a committed sense of personal space. They’re private people. My widowed brother responded to our offers to help by saying, “No, don’t fly out. Come out in a month when the baby is born.” My niece is about to give birth to her first child.
My brother lost his wife. His kids lost their mother. I lost a sister, a second mom, a friend; and I was honoring their space and their grief by staying home. Integrity: check. Self doubt: eating me up.
My friend called to check in on me. Hearing my confusion, she asked what I needed. I heard myself say it: I need to be with my family. She coached me to go, and how to handle both their privacy and my need to be with family. So I sat at my desk, looked up a flight, and before clicking, “purchase,” I worried. Should I do it? Will I upset him? Will I make my grieving brother angry and make it worse?
I leaned my face into my hands and fuzzed my vision, trying to separate from the moment. Just then, I saw a tiny starburst, light refracted in my wedding ring, in the corner of my vision. It surprised me. It made me feel warm. Familiar. I remembered my favorite ring as a child and the mirror world I felt so at home in. I focused on the tiny blur. And there came into focus the crystal clear reflection of the leaves on the tree outside my window. Birds flitting in them.
Why, I thought, why right now? It’s wildly out of place in this heated moment. It’s decades ago this experience, this feeling, why am I seeing it now?
Then a run of images slid into view. Plastic ruby memories. The ring Joyce gave me for my 16th birthday. This moment as I sit here, watching a perfect reflection in my wedding ring, and questioning what all of this is pointing me to. Of all the far out thoughts interrupting my worry, Joyce is the only element that ties to it. And I suddenly remember I dreamt of Joyce the night before, talking about taking care of her family. The images are flashing fast as cards shuffling and, as quickly, I ask, “Joyce?” And I hear, “Yes,” so I ask, “Go?” and I hear, “Yes,” and before I can doubt it, I click, “Purchase tickets,” and I feel more settled than I have in days.
I arrive at my brother’s. He hugs me and says thanks for coming. The rest of our family arrives at the same time, having come to the same conclusions on their own. We spend the week together in solace and support, bared in the vulnerability of loss, our relationships deepening in the sharing.