Have you ever been sure of anything? The only time in my life I can recall really being sure of a decision, to the point where it seemed pre-determined, was when I knew Catherine and I would be married. We’d known each other about a month when I was sitting in her mother’s kitchen watching her talk to someone else. Completely unbidden a voice inside my head said, “That’s your wife.” Clear as day. Weird.

Of course there have been days (maybe longer for her) that the surety of that decision has been questioned, but I know what I heard.

Lately, Catherine has been a little bleak on human nature. One night while playing her weekly tennis match she was stunned by the sight of a gorgeous snow white moth on the court. It had an arresting effect as though she was being told something. She returned to the game and later, when she looked for it, discovered she’d trampled the moth into gray pieces. What does that signify?

Ice creamI suppose if you’re of a mind you can see signs everywhere. There was one time I told myself if I went in the kitchen and the oven clock showed a 3, such as 9:31, I could have a bowl of ice cream. This is akin to reading the daily horoscope and applying its broad declarations to your life no matter how tenuous the connection. You will receive a great opportunity today. “Yes! There’s a fresh quart of Rocky Road in the freezer! I love horoscopes.”

Recently a New York psychic was busted for bilking a client of hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments the sucker paid to make his wishes come true. It’s amazing, isn’t it, what we can convince ourselves of if we want it bad enough.

For the record, after I heard the voice in my mother-in-law’s kitchen I waited another six months or so before I broached the subject of marriage with Catherine. I believe in signs, but I wasn’t desperate.

I wonder how many signs we miss during a lifetime or even a day.

wrenchYesterday I was walking through a job site when an air conditioning installer dropped a pair of heavy pliers from the rafters and it landed harmlessly at my feet. Another couple inches and… Yikes!

Maybe we only see the signs we want to see. Actually, this is probably a fact. If we accept we are being told something then we are compelled to act upon it or suffer recriminations from our conscience. Cries for help are a good example, whether it’s a floundering swimmer calling out from the waves or the more subtle signs of distress from a friend or acquaintance who could really use a helping hand.

Other things we can likely do nothing about, like a recent statistic I read that 90 people die every day in the U.S. of gunshot wounds—30 are murdered and 60 commit suicide. I know solutions are difficult and polarizing and this is a big country, but that’s startling.

Would you remove a $20 bill from dog poop? Catherine was faced with that dilemma last week when she bent to retrieve Buster’s daily deposit and noticed Andrew Jackson’s pained face peering up at her. Conflicted, she extracted the bill, cleaned it thoroughly and left it by the laundry sink. Compared to a note that hasn’t been through a dog, it does look kind of suspect.IMG_0017

Also, we’re trying to figure out where to spend it. It doesn’t seem right to just pass it off as a normal bill, knowing where it’s been and all. It would be fun to spend it symbolically, like at a place you’ve been treated crapily, but even that feels wrong. I thought of just going to the bank and coming clean, but I’m afraid of being told it’s valueless. Worth shit, as it were. I suppose we could donate it to the Trump campaign, but only we would know the joke and he’d get $20.

In retrospect, maybe Catherine should not have taken pity on Andrew Jackson. Maybe she should have picked him up and entombed him forever in the plastic bag of poop.

Maybe this anecdote is worth the $20.

I like how it raises conflicting issues about waste, gratitude, fairness, honesty, value and personal squeamishness. What if we spent the $20 on toilet paper? Would that be poetic?

Recognizing and properly interpreting signs is problematic. You might fixate on a story about cougar attacks (Uh, oh. I’ve walked in the woods. I’m being warned.) but totally ignore the scientific study on how smoking causes cancer or how texting and driving can be deadly.

I read an article recently about how most of our recycling efforts are wasted and actually contribute to increased carbon emissions. Interestingly, the author said if we continue filling landfills at the same rate for the next 1,000 years we’ll fill one-tenth of 1 percent of all the U.S. land now available for grazing. Even then, that land is not lost forever as landfills are often covered over and used for parkland. For example, the U.S. Open tennis tournament is played on what was once a landfill. This tidbit is not really about reading signs, but I like it when our preconceived notions are completely upended by hard facts. Especially something so socially mandated and fraught with middle-class guilt as recycling.

recyclingThe article wasn’t advocating the end of recycling, by the way, but just suggesting we think twice before running the hot water for five minutes to rinse a hummus container for the blue bin. I guess that’s common sense, but it’s amazing how illusive that can be.

If I had a water stain in my house shaped like Jesus or writing appeared on my wall telling me exactly what decisions to make, things might be clearer. Also the voice telling me to marry Catherine has never made another appearance, so I’m mostly on my own.

A few years back I was contemplating the existence of God and wondered why he no longer appears to people in any recognizable form like in the Bible. Early one morning I was mountain biking in a state park near Santa Cruz, California. After a tough uphill climb I arrived at a spacious meadow with a magnificent oak tree in its center. The sky was clear and the morning sun was burning off the fog. I had clear views all around across the meadow and the wonderful feeling of having it all to myself as I had not seen another living soul since I arrived at the park. The Pacific sparkled a mile below and the distant thump of crashing rollers carried up to me from the beach. I put down my bike and sat against the tree, drinking from my water bottle.

I was still thinking about visions and the like when a guy appeared from nowhere. Just a guy with a genuine, warm smile and an easy manner. I have to admit my imagination fired and I wondered if I was being sent a sign. This guy could easily pass for an angel. I waited kind of breathlessly for him to say something important about my purpose and what I was supposed to do. Another part of me hoped he would not. We talked about the weather. After a moment I said, “So long,” got on my bike and rode downhill to my parked car.