A Firefly in the Livingroom

Do you think there is such a thing as coincidence? Or is life a series of well-timed, intentional acts?

There’s certainly plenty of evidence for the former. Lightning strikes, for example. However, you could also argue that lightning strikes result from storms, which are a scientific phenomenon that can be easily predicted. Maybe that’s one point for the latter. Of course, romantic comedies would also have you believe in perfect, serendipitous coincidence. But, romantic comedies are also shot on sets with actors and scripts. Looks like that is a draw.

But whatever your persuasion on this subject, I find that some events are simply more difficult to pin down, as either coincidence or fate, than others.

Take, for example, the other night. I’m walking with my mom around the neighborhood. We’re watching the sky darken with a storm, so we’re sort of hoofing it. We pass a corner when we smell it. Cigar smoke.

Okay, not entirely, unusual in itself. Actually, not really unusual at all, is it? Except for the fact that my grandfather (you can read about him here) used to smoke like a chimney stack. And his tobacco of choice was cigars. Add to the fact that I am always thinking about him around the summertime. At his old house, he had this beautiful porch where we could sit outside until the light died, unable to see each other’s faces but able to make out the red tip of his cigar. And of course, the fireflies that lit up the yard. He used to say, without fail, that they would arrive around the Fourth of July and then disappear shortly after.

So, when cigar smoke swept up our noses on our nightly walk, my mom immediately said it was Pop-Pop, stopping by to say hello. I agreed with her, and we rushed home before the oncoming storm could soak us.

Unbeknownst to us, we must have had a hitchhiker.

We walked through the door and plopped down on the couch, exhausted from our hurrying, but glad for it, as we heard the rain splatter on the window. Relaxing back, we heard a faint hum in the room. Looking over, we saw a firefly hovering over the coffee table. It hung in the air like a fairy and seemed suspended there. It was captivating and altogether strange.

Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones who had seen it: our pet cat was all wide eyes and twitching tail. Not wanting him to eat our good omen, I captured the bug and took it outside. It sat on my hand for a moment and then drifted lazily into the air.

Now, you could say that a firefly followed us into the house and was almost eaten by a well-fed cat. And you’d be right. And you could also say that this was more confirmation of my Pop-Pop, who wanted to send us a sign that we’d recognize. And you’d also be right (at least in my book).

But isn’t that the beautiful thing? If it was intentional, then it was simply a memorable moment. If it was a coincidence, then it was also a memorable moment. That is, if my Pop-Pop sent it, then it’s meaningful, but if it simply attached to our clothes, then it’s adorable.

That’s why you can’t pin it down; it’s both intentional and coincidental. And I truly don’t see or mind the difference that I can’t answer my original questions. Because it doesn’t really matter. It’s all about what you choose to believe, and what “brightens” your day.

Faith is a Staircase

On St. Patrick’s Day, there is no way that I cannot reminisce about spending this special holiday in Ireland.

I’ve never seen such a display of pure patriotism. Float after float, band after band, dancer after dancer marched down the street in the coastal city of Galway. Feeling like a kid again, I had to stand on tiptoes to see over the crowd of people, to get a glimpse of the festivities that I was suddenly apart of. When it was over, there was another parade–to the pub. Funneling down the narrow streets, we would eventually arrive at our favorite bar. And people would get their beer “to go” in a plastic cup so that they could take their merriment out into the street, to watch performers put on yet another show.

It scares me to think that this may have never happened. I almost didn’t go to Ireland at all.

Let me set the stage. It was my junior year of college. A lot of things were finally coming into focus for me: I was afraid to start a job but at least I knew who my real friends were. Actually, I was with the best roommates a girl could ask for. But still. As is customary in these situations, I wanted more.

I had always been interested in studying abroad, even though I had only left the country once. So, I set up a meeting with my study abroad advisor. With my high grades, she told me I could go anywhere I wanted. Emboldened by her faith in me, I proudly stated that I wanted to go to Scotland. St. Andrew’s, in fact. You may recognize it from the tabloids: Kate Middleton was educated there. But I was drawn to the school because they had a terrific creative writing program (and an excellent golf course so that my dad would come to visit me there). I had done mild research on it, and I felt sure that I would be comfortable in Scotland.

Imagine my surprise and heartbreak when my study abroad advisor flatly stated that I had missed the deadline for that school. Then, imagine the rift in my heart deepening when she told me that I would only have a few more days to submit an application to any school. I felt the experience slipping out of my fingers before I even had a chance to entertain it.

She must have seen the horror on my face because her next reply was decidedly cheerier, “Have you ever thought of Ireland? My husband was an English major, and he loved his time in Galway.” With an enthusiastic nod, a frantic recommendation letter from my favorite professor, and a hurried phone call with both my mom and my boyfriend, it was settled: I would go to Ireland to study in less than a month.

Despite the rocky beginning to my experience (threw up on the plane, forgot my debit card back in the US, broke my finger playing Gaelic football), I had the time of my life. I met some of the best people I have ever encountered. I saw landscapes that were nothing short of unreal. I learned a new language. But it almost didn’t happen.

I’m not sure what I would have done if I had not submitted my application on time. If I had let the fact that my dream school was no longer an option hold me back. And, oh yeah, if my family, boyfriend, and roommates hadn’t been so absolutely encouraging and accepting of my decision.

However, it was about the only time in my life that I was able to let go of control completely. Of course, I was in the capable hands of my study abroad advisor, but I still put a lot of trust in her. After all, she was going to decide where I would spend the next 6 months of my life. That’s a lot of faith for a person I considered one baby step above a stranger. An incredibly accommodating and complimentary stranger, but a stranger nonetheless.

And so, if there was ever proof that MLKJ’s quote, “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase” is true, I am a living example. Maybe the best parts of life aren’t planned or even up to us to decide. Maybe it is just luck that brings us to the right time and place, where we are meant to be (I’m sure the Irish would tell you that). For me, I think it is a combination of being ready for everything and having everything ready. In the end, if you have a parachute, you still have to muster up the courage to jump.