I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the eerie circumstances of October 9th. I was visiting my partner in Chicago and we were walking down his street towards toward a promising night out. Allen was eagerly telling me about the friends he was making and how one was working on a doctoral thesis surrounding mysticism and fortune tellers. Apparently, her work explains, there is a direct correlation between the economic recession and folks deciding to visit psychics instead of therapists. We continued to walk, joking curiously about this practice and its authenticity.
From the darkness behind us a voiced called out, “Do you think it’s real?” We turned to find a woman by the corner who must have slipped our vision, her slight build listing against the support of her bicycle. She looked worried and determined but somehow temporary, as if the whirlwind of her life had just deposited her on that street corner for the moment we were crossing it. Her question had stopped us dead in our tracks.
“Fortune telling. Psychics. Is it all real?” she repeated. Her tone was earnest and emotional as if our response could change her world. We shrugged nervously, smiled and said we weren’t sure. She began to tell us her narrative of misfortune and I was transfixed. Months ago she had seen a psychic who told her that she was going to miscarry. She did. She was angry. She hadn’t believed the psychic but was now in the throes of violent uncertainty. Because her first pregnancy had ended the same way she wondered if the psychic had reached out to her friends to gather background information, but they all had denied involvement. We were speechless at this unexpected interaction and for a third time, desperately waiting for us to answer, she pleaded, “I’m asking you, is it real?”
On that street corner in Chicago the lenses of the universe aligned our lives with this woman’s. But to what end? We had nothing to offer her but empty words of solace. So we exchanged well-wishes and parted ways, leaving us in silence for the next few blocks. I felt hollow. For all of my Public Service training and friendly nature, I couldn’t summon an ounce of legitimate assistance for this person. I knew her only by her troubles. But that’s the thing; so had the fortune teller.
Regardless of the legitimacy of the practice, fortune telling doesn’t provide a service to people that sees them as a whole person (like traditional therapy). It sees them only by their fortunes and misfortunes, buy their successes and failures. It doesn’t help people focus on their assets and build themselves up by their strengths. A psychic doesn’t form a relationship with their customer in the same way that a therapist forms a relationship with their patient.
But deeper questions that arise from this interaction are, “What is useful information for us?” and, “What are the questions we seek answers to?” I suppose I can’t know that fortune telling isn’t real, but it made me think about all of the times in my life that I’ve put my trust in people to tell me what the future will bring. At one time or another we have all trusted experts to advise our biggest decisions.
Brittany Maynard, a woman with a terminal, incurable form of cancer ended her life yesterday. She had become a controversial figure under the national spotlight as someone seeking care under Oregon’s the Death with Dignity Act. There is someone very close to me who is wondering how much time is left. While we’ve been told by doctors that there’s “no crystal ball” (their actual words) they have still given us estimates in the form of months. But those haven’t always been correct and I am blessed that they haven’t. Because they were wrong I’ve been given a little more time with him. It is curious to be a human in a world of pleasure and suffering trying to strike a balance between living and dying – to understand the sadness of leaving those we love in this world to find the joy of going home to a God who waits for us. If I had met Brittany I would have been as tongue-tied as I was when I met the woman in Chicago.
I’m not writing this to finally answer the question of that woman in Chicago, or to say if I thought Brittany was wrong to die the way she chose to. What I am saying is this: that night I got to walk away with someone I loved knowing that life is worth living for as long as I can live it well, and also that this extra time with my father has been a miracle. Our lives are filled with crippling uncertainty and crisis, but living them is possible when we know that love makes us eternal. Right now I invite you to reach out to someone you love, because doing so is the only way to find the answers to the right questions. God bless you.