Synchronicity is a gateway to faith and if not faith, then at least to the recognition that the world is more mysterious than we know, and isn’t that recognition a lot like faith?
Synchronicity can show up as a haunting or a miracle. Sometimes it’s funny. It’s always worthy of attention.
I’ve had three synchronous moments lately — one a haunting, one a sly joke, and one a gracious note from the dead (which of course is not the same as a haunting).
Today, I’ll relate the haunting. It’s about my sister. Of course it’s about my sister.
For our holiday meal, rather than clean up a half-finished jigsaw puzzle, we brought in a small oak table from the garage. This table has history. It was where my family sat and ate dinner for years — on Glen Terrace, Cypress Drive, Glory Drive, and Whitman Road. After my mother remarried, she brought it south with her to Lighthouse Point and then back north to Essex.
In the early years, my parents occupied either end. Sometimes the table was up against a wall, sometimes centered in a dining space. Either way, my sister sat on one of the long sides while my brother and I occupied the side opposite. I think it was probably this seating arrangement that inspired Noreen to learn how to pinch with her toes. Don’t laugh! She could really inflict some pain.
It’s also where my father used humor to drive home the difference between can I and may I. If you were to say, for instance, can I have the ketchup, he’d deadpan with yes you can or I don’t know, can you, and keep eating. He managed to make it funny. And we learned.
After my mother died, the table went to my sister. When my sister died, it came to me.
I didn’t think I was sentimental about the table until I was scraping off mold and cleaning the disgusting, nearly black gunk from between its center seams. Both gross. To look at the burns and stains scattered on its surface was to see my sister’s dysfunction made plain. Again. I found myself wondering what, exactly, prevented her from performing the simple tasks that make up a life. Was it so hard to wipe the table clean once in a while or slip a plate under a plant? For her, yes it was too much.
Or was it? Maybe it was just what she told herself. With Noreen it was impossible to tell and in the end, I realized it didn’t matter. The result was the same. A disordered life. A stained, ruined table.
Anyway, I managed to get a sliver. The sliver was almost impossible to see and took a magnifying glass and some real wrangling to remove. There were moments I thought I imagined it. This is when I said, Hello Noreen. The sliver might’ve been a bristle from a toothbrush I used to clean the tarry seams or it might’ve been a piece of the table itself.
Either way, my pinky got infected. It hurt. It turned bright red. For days, even after the splinter was out, I had to apply hot compresses, soak it in salty water and hydrogen peroxide and once, use a sterilized pin to poke out a blob of puss.
Not to belabor the point, but this is a pretty apt metaphor for being in relationship with my sister. Working hard to clean up one of her messes, a job I never signed up for, by the way, only to get shafted. Having to deal with the emotional wreckage after a visit for days. And even that hallucinatory quality — is this real or am I making it up — speaks to how convincing she could be with her narratives of blame. Maybe I was, in fact, a complete shit. Maybe I wickedly shortchanged her.
That inner dialogue occurred even as I knew that nothing was ever gonna be enough for my sister and even though I knew that withholding was a critical form of self-protection. She was forceful. She pinched me under the table with her toes.
So that’s the haunting. I’ll save the other two incidents for the next post. This is long enough.
By the way, in my sister’s papers I found reports from elementary school. Elementary school! One was a report about Alaska, another about bats. Around Halloween this year, I made a spooky paper collage and then digitally double-exposed it with the cover of her bat report. That’s one version, above. Another version, sans bats, is below.