The Road Not Taken

So one of the things I had been praying for in all the months after my beloved Dad died was for him to give me a sign that all was well. My Mom had gotten her sign and so had both of my sisters. Even my great kid was sure that Grandpa had sent him a sign. I was despondent; am I missing the sign, or has it just not come? Or would it ever come at all? I had about given up when it happened.

But before I can tell you what that sign was, I want to look back on the journey – and the people – who made the sign possible. I’m a big believer in the randomness of life but also in the fact that maybe it’s not as random as we think. Maybe there are invisible sign posts scattered throughout our lives and, if we pay attention and notice them, even if they don’t seem obvious at the time, they can change our lives in ways great and small. And a series of these random events, beginning 8 years ago when my Dad was still vital and healthy and wonderfully living his life, brought me to the sign which changed everything for me.

Not to paint a bleak picture, but it’s hard to be a single parent raising a child, especially when the other parent has absented himself from that child’s life. And the old adage about two living as cheaply as one may not be true but it’s also sometimes very tough to juggle all the financial balls by yourself and, as does happen, financial woes can visit any of us. And that’s the situation I found myself in 8 years ago.

I was determined to get my financial house in order and it wasn’t an easy road. Not every financial institution wants to deal with a single parent and my attempt to summon up a miracle, to make the people I was dealing with see that I was a good risk and that investing in me was not going to backfire on them, did not go particularly well. I had gotten tired of banging my head against the proverbial wall of “no” answers I kept getting when a casual acquaintance suggested talking to a financial guy she knew, a guy she assured me could help me out. Great, I thought, and called this guy. He’ll help me; I was sure of it. So I called.

And then I called again. And again. And yet again. And he never returned one of my phone calls. My level of frustration and disgust was rising but I didn’t mention it to my acquaintance because, after all, she had done all the right things, pointed me in the right direction and it wasn’t her fault the guy hadn’t called. So I put it all aside for a while and just muddled through, juggling finances and bills as best as I could.

A few months later, we crossed paths again and she asked me how my call had gone. It hadn’t gone at all, I replied, and told her how I had never gotten a return call. She was upset on my behalf and said it wasn’t acceptable and that she’d fix it. I didn’t hold out much hope because it wasn’t her problem to fix and she had already done a lot, just passing on the original information. But she was not to be deterred and got me the name of another person to call. He’s completely reliable, she said. He’ll help you; I don’t know why I didn’t tell you about him in the first place. Skeptical but grateful, so grateful that this person I scarcely knew was so willing to help me, I called the new guy. And met on the phone a man in an office 3,000 miles away, a man who listened sympathetically to what I told him, didn’t judge, didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep but said he’d take good care of me. I believed him; his voice inspired that kind of confidence. And take care of me, he did. Wonderfully, compassionately, professionally. And now, 8 years later, he’s my best friend, the person I can’t imagine not having in my life. For years, we had only a phone relationship, talking first professionally only and then becoming friends, chatting once every few months, then monthly, daily and now several times a day. And when we really started to become friends, I decided to combine a business trip to California with a small side trip to visit him, to meet this guy who had saved my proverbial butt financially and had become such a good friend.

So I headed out to the left coast and checked myself into a hotel at the happiest place on earth and, while I was waiting in the spectacular lobby of this grand hotel one day to meet him, spent a glorious hour listening to this magnificent piano player. It was so entertaining, so delightful that, as she got up to take her break and happened to walk past me, I told her how much I had enjoyed her playing and how awfully good I thought she was. She encouraged me to tell her my favorite songs when she returned and she’d play them for me during her next set.

I did and sat next to the piano while she played and we started chatting, the type of casual but – at least for me – highly entertaining chats you have with people you meet on vacation, people you never expect to see or talk to again. But I was at the hotel for a few more days and spent more time listening to her and talking to her and, when I left, we exchanged e-mails and phone numbers. And you know what usually happens, don’t you? All the best intentions never seem to pan out but this time they did and we became friends and, a few months later, when I returned there for a vacation with my great kid, we spent time with her again and she charmed my son, remembered my favorite songs – which she played every time she saw me, with no prompting from me – and spent time chatting with us, catching us up on her life and asking about ours. And she introduced me to another performer at the hotel, a gifted and multi-talented guy who spun wonderous stories at night by the oversized fireplace in the lobby, enchanting the kids (and their parents too) with his songs and tales. I spent some time talking to him, getting to know him and we just had instant chemistry. He was as nice a person as I could ever hope to know and my piano-playing friend said she had never seen him click with a guest like that before. And we too kept in touch, texting and sharing stories and seeing each other any time we were out that way.

And that is how I got my sign. In July, 4 long months after my Dad had died, I went back to Disneyland by myself. My great kid had headed off to 4 weeks working at camp and I needed a break. I needed something happy in my life. I was sad and aching, both physically and emotionally every day, and not getting better. I was angry, too, angry that I hadn’t gotten the sign, that I hadn’t heard from my Dad. And so after a few days, when I met up with my new friend, we sat down one night away from the crowds and he just let me talk about my Dad and how I felt and how I was mired in this unhappiness. He listened for a very long time and then he started talking, telling me what I needed to hear, encouraging me not to keep it all bottled in, providing me with solace and comfort and also spiritual guidance. He is a wonderfully spiritual person, a quality not everyone embraces or, if they do, doesn’t always put out there for general consumption but it’s a quality he shared with me. And it changed everything for me.

That night, I finally dreamed about my Dad. I walked into a room and saw him but his back was turned to me. I went up behind him and put my arms around him and he said to me “I’m so glad you’re here”. And I woke up and everything had changed. The heaviness in my heart was gone. I knew he was OK. And, more importantly, I knew that I was now OK. My Dad had helped me begin again.

But if I hadn’t had Josh to talk to, or if I hadn’t met Josh through Jamie, or talked to Jamie at the hotel while waiting to meet Doug, or if I had never met Doug because the other guy had called me back, or if I hadn’t run into financial troubles, I don’t know if I would have ever gotten a sign. But I did, and have the added bonus of having these 3 wonderful, smart, funny and compassionate people in my life.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is that, even though something may not seem important at the time, or even if it seems random, pay attention. You never know what is going to change your life. You usually don’t realize it at the time but you can always follow the path back and get to that Oprah “aha!” moment when the thing happened, the person came into your life, you opened that book to read it, you turned down that job, you drove a different way, you took the road less traveled.

Thank you, Dad, for letting me know you were OK and thank you Doug, Jamie and Josh for getting me there. I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference.


About mygreatkid

Mom, daughter, friend, blogger, DC grad.
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One Response to The Road Not Taken

  1. Carol Degan says:

    Ellen, it’s 3:15 in th emorning right now and I’m awak thinking about my brother and how hard Christmas will be this year without him. Your blog made me think that I too need to look for the signs that he is OK and that we’ll all be OK. I don’t think my brother returned to God peacefully because ther was so much unfinished here on earth. I pray every day that he found his way home again.
    Anyway, it brings me comfort and strength to know that I can’t give up and need to keep believing that my “sign” will come too one day.
    Wishing you and your family the peace of Christmas.

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