But I also know when I’ve had an extraordinary experience that defies rational, causal explanations.
Last Sunday evening, I’d just finished shopping at my favorite local market, unloaded my groceries into my car trunk, and reversed course to return the cart to the corral in front of the store. As I pivoted and began to wheel the wagon back, I saw that the woman parked next to me was doing precisely the same thing. Through a sea of scattered carts, strewn around the parking lot by careless, harried shoppers who can’t be bothered to make the return trip, she and I moved in perfect tandem.
It wasn’t the first time I’d noticed her; she’d caught my eye as I approached my car with my packages: a beautiful African-American woman with wonderfully braided hair. There was something about her, I’d thought; it wasn’t just that she looked beautiful—she radiated beauty.
Walking alongside one another with our carts, we simultaneously turned face-to-face and she said, “I’ve found another person who’s doing the right thing.”
I smiled, and we began to talk about what compelled us to set things in order, at least to the degree that anyone can in the chaotic world we inhabit. We were laughing by then, yet clearly connected on so many levels that it nearly bowled me over.
How could it be that a chance encounter at Whole Foods could generate such strong, positive energy that I felt instantly enlivened and energized? With this woman by my side, I suddenly thought, I could face anything. It was a profound thought: profoundly irrational, but profoundly real.
I told her that I felt so off kilter. Ruefully, I confessed that I felt that the world, so dangerous already, had taken a sharp turn for the worse in the past month with the war in the Middle East. So much death and destruction. So much fresh fear engendered by the hatred that seemed to be radiating through the atmosphere like the waves of intense heat we’d suffered in recent days. World war. Terrorism. Global warming.
In the face of all the negativity, we are so helpless, I said. And laughingly, I concluded, “So that’s why I have to do my part with the cart.”
By then, we were back by our cars, looking at one another like old friends who shared a deep bond. “It does make a difference,” she responded. “We can make a difference.”
I couldn’t turn away from this woman, who by then seemed to be a messenger I’d been waiting for. “I wish I could believe that,” I replied. “Look at the mess we’re handing our children.”
“Don’t let all that get in the way of the larger vision--what we can do to change the world,” she counseled. “Believing is seeing,” she said, now standing next to me. “Believing is seeing.” She touched my arm. Standing on the hot asphalt of the suburban parking lot, I felt a sense of calm and purpose no amount of therapy, prayer, or study had ever given me. We exchanged names, and the hope that we’d see each other again.
Did I arise the next morning to a world at peace? Hardly. And today, I woke up to the news that the British government had “disrupted” a sophisticated and well-advanced terrorist plot to blow up airliners in midair.
I’m still a rationalist, and I’m still terrified by the negative forces that hold sway throughout much of the planet. But I did learn one thing about positive energy: it’s a powerful force that can transform us, connect us to one another, and maybe, just maybe, change the world.