Tuesday, February 9, 2016

This is, by a wide margin, the least likely thing that has ever happened

I've always gotten a kick out of coincidences. That's probably human nature. One fun little example: Cara was born at 6:20 am and for part of her childhood she lived on a street called East Jeffrey Place. She would, of course, grow up to marry a man named Jeffrey - whose birthday was 6/20.

There are a number of really remarkable coincidences regarding Cara that I have in my memories, and I thought it would be worthwhile to compile them in one post. So, here goes.

First of all, there are two incidents I remember in which Cara seemed to have some sort of unconscious ability to predict the future. I'll tell the second one first, because the other is more interesting. Cara and I were going out to dinner at the since-closed Mexican restaurant Mi Pueblo near Case campus. It was one of our favorite spots; when we started dating I lived just around the corner and we enjoyed many meals together there. Anyway, on that particular night, as we walked from our car to the restaurant we heard a band playing in the nearby Euclid Tavern. "Is that 'Rockin' in the Free World'?" Cara asked, referring to a Neil Young song. I listened for a couple of seconds and answered that no, it wasn't. We entered Mi Pueblo, sat down, had a nice dinner together, and by the time we got up to leave had no doubt forgotten all about the band in the Tavern. But as we headed out into the night, I was startled to hear a familiar tune emanating from inside the old music venue's walls.

"Keep on rockin' in the free world..."

We could only look at each other and laugh in amazement.

The first incident of Cara's psychic abilities was far more shocking.

Early in the morning on June 14, 2009, we were driving out to Burton, Ohio for the annual Sunday in June bike tour, Cara's first ever bike tour in Northeast Ohio and my first ever bike tour period. I have absolutely no idea what caused Cara to say this, but she remarked, "Wouldn't it be funny if I got 666 for my bib number?" (A bib number, for those who don't know, is the identifying number worn during a race or other such event.)

So we got to Burton, parked our car, got our gear together, rode our bikes over to the starting point, went to the signup table, filled out the registration forms and paid the fees, and then, sure enough...

I mean, it was probably the strangest thing I had ever seen in person to that point in my life. Think about it. If Cara had been asked in advance to predict her bib number, she'd have had less than a 1% chance of predicting correctly. But what possessed her to even make such a prediction? Why would she do that? We were both just totally stunned that her bib number was, indeed, 666. Making this even more funny was that the Sunday in June tour goes through the Amish country of Geauga County, and according to Cara, some children she rode past reacted by saying things like, "Get away, Satan!" (They may have been joking. I'm not sure.)

So those are the two stories of Cara's psychic powers. There are also several remarkably odd incidents that occurred related to Cara's cancer and her death, which I'll recount next.

The first was one that I had no idea the strangeness of until some time after it happened. Nearly two months before Cara was diagnosed, my mom (who, it should be noted, has generally never asked me about going to concerts with her) asked me if Cara and I might like to go to a concert with her in Columbus. The odd part? The concert was on September 22, Cara's birthday, and the band was Typhoon - that is, the band whose powerful music would become my own personal soundtrack to my and Cara's lives after Cara was diagnosed. (We did not go to that concert, but I did see Typhoon on September 21 in Cleveland.) When my mom sent that innocent email query I had no idea that one day I would look back on it and marvel. As I wrote in the post linked above, "What was it that made her ask this, just this one time, about this one specific band, for a show on Cara's birthday?"

Next, there is another music-related coincidence. On rare occasions I will hear a song on the radio (something I generally only listen to while in the car) that I'm just so taken by that I immediately have to go look up the song and the artist and not only that, I soon find myself going ahead and buying the album. I love it when this happens. It's a fun way of discovering music. One such incident happened early in 2015, less than two months before Cara died. As I recall, I had just dropped her off at work when a song on WJCU (John Carroll University's radio station) really caught my attention. The song was "Here's Where The Story Ends" by English alternative rock band The Sundays.

It was released in 1990 and according to Wikipedia topped the U.S. Modern Rock Charts for a single week, so it was something of a hit, but The Sundays aren't exactly a household name and I doubt most people would remember the song. I can't remember ever being aware of it before that day I heard it on the radio. I heard it on the radio a few more times in the ensuing weeks and, as I mentioned, I also bought the album on which it appears, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. It's a solid indie pop album, but "Here's Where The Story Ends" is definitely the best song. And it really is a wonderful song.

Flash forward to April 28, the day of the calling hours for Cara at the funeral home. As I drove to the funeral home that morning, a familiar song came on the radio. I kind of chuckled to myself. It seemed fitting, given the song's title and lyrics. Already that was a pretty wild coincidence, hearing that particular song on the way to the funeral home that day, but that was just the beginning. That night, after the calling hours were over, I was visiting with my relatives at the hotel where they were staying. We were eating dinner in a common area. In the background, some music could faintly be heard playing over the hotel's speakers in another room. And as I sat there eating and conversing, and another song started playing, I turned more of my attention to those distant notes because they sounded familiar - was that really...?

A stunned expression came over my face. This is a fairly obscure song we're talking about here. Why was it playing over the hotel's speakers, on the same day as Cara's calling hours, on the same day I had already heard it on the radio?

I found this eerie, but an even more eerie thing had happened several days before. Early in the morning hours of April 24, I sat by Cara's hospital bed. At 4:15 am, her mother, the nurse, and I watched as Cara breathed her last breath. At that very minute, my phone's text message notification sounded. Her mother and I looked at each other, startled. The sound played again.

My beloved wife had just passed away, but not knowing what else to do, I looked at my phone. I had received two text messages from my mother. Not only that, but both messages said "blank message."

This was probably the most eerie moment of my life. It was as if Cara's spirit was trying to communicate with us as she left the world.

I later learned that my mother had indeed texted me at that time with a message about how she and my father were leaving Columbus to head up to Cleveland. The reason the messages showed up as blank (something that had happened before) was that my outdated phone could not handle some symbols my mother included in the messages, and as a result, did not display the messages at all. Still, it was quite a coincidence that my mother texted me at the very same minute that Cara passed away.

Finally, I have one more little story to tell. This past November I went for a walk at Horseshoe Lake in Shaker Heights, a place where Cara and I many times enjoyed walks together. While there, I happened to notice a memorial marker. I was startled when I saw the dates. I posted this picture to Facebook and captioned it, "At Horseshoe Lake today I happened upon a memorial to another person who died far too young on the 24th of April."

(The text on the marker says: "Tasting all these and letting them have their ways to waken me, I shiver and resolve: In my life, I will more than live." -William Stafford. Michael Robert Tucker June 4, 1982 - April 24, 2010)

Happening upon a memorial, at a place Cara and I loved, for a person who died exactly five years before Cara was a coincidence, sure, but not that crazy, right? Well, here's the crazy part. After posting the picture on Facebook, I was informed by a good friend of mine who saw the post that Michael Robert Tucker had been a close childhood friend. Even more amazing, the two, after not seeing each other for years, had reconnected, by chance, just weeks before Michael died in a tragic rock climbing accident.

As with every other story in this post, I once more found myself stunned.

It can be tempting to think of all these wildly unlikely occurrences as evidence of some sort of higher power. It can even be fun to think that way. Of course, I'm well aware that we humans evolved to find patterns in randomness. Still, who really knows?

I do have to point out one other extremely unlikely event that happened in my and Cara's lives. At some point in time, in a single cell within Cara's body, by random chance, a very specific error appeared in her genetic code that would ultimately lead to the development of lethal metastatic lung cancer.

Downer of an ending, I know, but that's life sometimes.

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