On Monday, August 29, my schedule was the same as the previous Monday, so I went to Starbucks again from about 3:15 to 4:40 p.m. I was sort of expecting a lot of impressive coincidences, since that’s what I experienced last time I was there.
(Earlier in the day, between 10:00 and 11:00, I had gone to two different banks to make transactions. At both I had to take a number and wait to be served, and both banks gave me the same number, 147. The number has no significance that I am aware of, but getting the same number twice seemed an indication that this would be a good day for synchronicity.)
Because of what happened last week, I paid attention to the songs that were playing in the background at Starbucks, but nothing much came of that. The first couple of songs were in French (including what was apparently a French version of David Bowie’s “Starman”), and the book I had brought this time was a history of French philosophy after the Revolution (the 9th volume of Copleston’s History of Philosophy), but that wasn’t really much of a coincidence. After a few French songs, they started playing old jazz standards instead. I stopped actively looking for synchronicities and let my mind wander.
I started thinking about a feature of my current lifestyle that was not quite morally right, and I thought to myself, “I’m going to change that, starting on the first of September.” It was then that I looked up and noticed a magazine on a rack directly across the table from me. Here it is:
The first thing I noticed was “the Holiday,” which I read etymologically as “the holy day.” I reprimanded myself for planning to reform on the first of September, thinking, “No, the holy day is the present day. To decide to repent in the future is to refuse to repent at all.” Then, one by one, the other English words on the magazine cover jumped out at me and assumed their places in the idea that was forming. First I noticed “DOOM” (written backwards as “MOOD”) and then “ire” (the first three letters of “Claire” being obscured by the model’s head). These, together with “the holy day,” suggested dies irae — the day of wrath, Judgment Day. It was in that context — i.e., that of the coming day that shall burn as an oven, dissolving the world in ashes — that “Cooking Ideas” interpreted itself. “A to Z” also fit into the apocalyptic theme — “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Jesus’ words in the book of Revelation). Later I noticed that even the “Aug” in the upper right corner seemed to underline the need to change my life now, in August, and not to wait until September. It also made me think of St. Augustine and his famous prayer, “Give me chastity and self-control — but not just yet.”
All these connections (except the bit about “Aug”) were made in a matter of seconds, everything suddenly jumping together with a feeling of epiphany. I thought, “Wow, it really feels as if God just used that magazine cover to give me a coded apocalyptic warning!”
Just as I thought that, a patron walked over to return the magazine he had been reading to the rack. He placed it just below the Marie Claire that I had been staring at, and I was astonished to see that the cover read “Coding the Future!”
The Chinese reads “他們用程式寫未來” (“They use programs to write the future”), so “coding” obviously refers to computer programming, not to messages in a secret code, but it was still creepy how exactly the words fit what I was thinking at the moment.
I had yet to notice the most startling aspect of the cover, though. After some minutes of staring at the two magazines and brooding over the “message” I had received, I finally noticed the light blue Chinese text in the background on the right side of the second magazine. The first line reads “開發者,” the meaning of which I could not quite remember. (My Chinese literacy is extremely limited. Looking it up now, I see that it means “developer.”) But I could read the second line easily, and it says, I kid you not, “有神快拜” — “There is a God. Quick, worship!”
At 4:40 I had to leave Starbucks to go to my next class, which was a half-hour’s motorcycle ride away. While on the road, I was still brooding over the magazine covers, and I started pondering the possible significance of the green man running with a bag, which appeared right next to the words “有神快拜” and “Coding the Future.” He made me think of the tarot Fool, who is often depicted wearing green and carrying a knapsack. I also thought about how Dante uses green as a symbol of hope and of the Apostle James, who tests Dante on the subject of hope. I thought of the lines from Purgatorio: “there is no one
so lost that the eternal love cannot return — as long as hope shows something green.”
Just as I was thinking this, a billboard came into view with the English words “Green Journey” on it. Seconds later, I stopped at a traffic light, and noticed a coffee shop with a sign that said “Green Tom.” I used to be a regular customer at Green Tom several years ago, when I was teaching at an agricultural research center nearby. At that time, it had two signs, one that said “Green Tom” and one that said “Green Town.” I always wondered which was the correct name and which was a mistake. Now they both say “Tom,” and this made me think of the Apostle Thomas — “green” both because he envied the other disciples who had seen the risen Christ, and because he hoped to have the same experience himself. As I continued along the rode, several other signs jumped out at me because they fit in with the “green journey” theme. Several green banners with the words “Easy Car” written on them. An building under construction, draped in an enormous green cloth with the single word “Simple” written on it. An auto shop whose logo was a bright green cartoon car with a big smile between its two headlight-eyes.
Of course, all these signs and things had all presumably been there on that road for a long time — a road I traverse every week — but today they jumped out at me and seemed full of significance. It really felt, subjectively, as if I were receiving a message — as if someone were communicating with me by directing my attention to one thing after another in such a way as to produce a coherent message. The message was not objectively there in the things I noticed, but it was created by the sequential direction of attention, just as someone might “spell out” a message by pointing to words printed on various things around him, one after another.
It occurred to me that everything was plausibly deniable — that there was no objective evidence that any “message” existed at all outside of my own overactive imagination. I even thought, “I wonder if this is what it feels like to have paranoid schizophrenia — to see connections and meanings in everything around you, even though it is all in fact meaningless.” I started to think that I’d be best off just assuming this was all meaningless, rather than indulging what might be nascent schizophrenic tendencies — but then I thought, to hell with that — The highway is for gamblers! Isn’t that my motto now? I’m going to operate on the working hypothesis that this was a real communication.
Having booted up my computer to write this post, I checked in at Bruce Charlton’s new blog, Albion Awakening, and found that the latest post is on The way of the Fool. “The spiritual path of the Fool is well known but seldom trodden, despite that it is very simple indeed. . . . It is simply the path of living by intuition, including justifying by intuition. . . . But in extremis, at the bottom line, the Fool abandons argument and sticks to intuition — in other words, the primacy of inner knowing.”
You may have noticed that the only two words on the Marie Claire cover that didn’t jump out at me as significant were “Marie” and “Ella.” While writing this post, I looked up the text of the hymn Dies Irae and found that its opening line is “Dies iræ, dies illa.” And the 13th stanza reads: “Qui Mariam absolvisti, / Et latronem exaudisti, / Mihi quoque spem dedisti” — “Thou who absolvedst Mary, / and heardest the Robber, / gavest hope to me, too.”