One Time

When I lived in the first house that I lived in in Charlotte, on Whalley Road, my neighbors across the street were Robin and Robert. When the kids and I moved to Church Hill Road, my neighbors next door were Robin and Robert. 

They were not the same people; the Whalley Road Robin and Robert did not follow us across town to Church Hill. 

There are about 3700 people living in Charlotte. What are the odds?

One time I went to a concert at the Flynn in Burlington. The place was packed; it was a sold-out show, but there was one empty seat, next to mine. It stayed empty for quite a while, until after the opening act, when I looked up to see someone I hadn't seen in twenty years, coming to take the seat. 

Last summer we went to Montana to get Nate situated at college. We rolled into town after driving for two days from Lake Tahoe, pulled into the parking lot of the place where we were staying, all feeling a little sad, a little excited, a little tired. We saw a truck parked next to ours with Alaska plates, then we saw the young couple who belonged to the truck. They were from Fairbanks, where my sister lives, and they knew her son, my nephew, Quinn. They had gone to school together. They, too, were starting their freshman year at Montana State, there in Bozeman.

One time I was walking down the street in Homer, Alaska. I had just had a great dinner and was heading back to the inn where I was staying. I looked over and saw a moose, standing there in someone's yard. It was the largest animal, by far, with which I had ever come within spitting range. That wasn't in a zoo or performing a circus act, anyway.

Another time I was walking down a hall at the Taos Inn and a Tiwa indian walked past me, wearing jeans that were covered with paint. I said hello and then he said hello. His name was Blue Spruce Standing Deer and we talked for a while. He gave me the best advice anyone has ever given me about being a photographer: shoot from the heart. Don't worry about money or what you think other people want to see, just shoot from the heart.

Denali.

Denali.

One time I was at a Grateful Dead show and I managed to find the person with whom I was trying to connect, just by walking around and looking for him; this was in the time before cell phones. Which is not an unusual story at all for a Dead show, except there were about 100,000 people there.

Once I was in Greece and I walked out onto a beach and I heard someone yell my name. Which is not unusual, given that Melissa is a Greek name, except it was actually someone I knew.

Once I was driving down a road, heading to Alyeska ski resort near Anchorage and I looked over and saw a lake covered with white swans.

Once I went swimming at night in bay, off the coast of Vieques, in water filled with bioluminescent creatures. 

Once I was standing at the bedside of a woman dying and I saw the image of a young man hovering near her head. I didn't know her; I had only just come to her in the hours before she died. "I don't know who he is," I whispered to her, "but he's waiting for you. You can go now." I learned later that she had had a son who had killed himself when he was a teen.

One time I was traveling alone with my son, who was three months old. Our flight got diverted due to bad weather, which made it so I would miss my next flight, the one that would bring us home. I was tired and overwhelmed and the baby was hungry and crying and the only other flight out that night was full. While I was standing at the ticket counter, trying to figure out what to do, a stranger walked up to me and gave me his seat. This was in the days before all of the security nonsense, when humans could still help other humans that way. 

I don't think that life is series of disconnected events that leads us to a death that is final. I don't really believe in random. I think that all of this is a divine dance, filled with mystery and magic and goodness. I think that life conspires to keep us safe and loved, and that this world is majestic and breathtaking, always wooing us, with creatures that glow and creatures with horns as big as me. And creatures who will give up their seat on an airplane even though they want to get home, too.

I think that our lives are somehow tailored specifically and magnificently just for us, for our own joy and our own suffering and our own evolution. Pay close attention to your life; it holds everything you need to know. Amen.