Give Me a Sign
Why we turn to magical thinking when we face the big decisions
This morning I was once again awakened by the ominous sound of a hard, periodic tapping on the glass door downstairs. This has been going on for weeks, every day around 7:00 a.m., which is evidently the hour when the light strikes the window at such an angle that this dumb silly bird sees his own reflection in the glass (and yes I am assuming this bird’s gender — no girl bird would be this aggressive or territorial or dumb) and, identifying it as an enemy bird, attacks it. This noise persists, a blunt relentless bonk… bonk… bonk until I am sufficiently awake to yell, “You dumb bird!” and he flies off.
I’m still struggling to interpret this omen in any favorable way — this daily wake-up call of a dim-witted creature indefatigably battling itself. I’m in one of those phases when you start taking the universe a little too personally, when everything starts to seem like the kind of sign people ask God for. If you’ve ever had cancer or a pregnancy scare, you know how caskets or baby carriages suddenly seem to appear everywhere, crowding around you, cornering you. At these pivotal moments in life, when your brain is preoccupied by a single question, your pattern-recognition apparatus goes into overdrive, turning everything portentous. Everyone you meet becomes a dream figure or character in an allegory: sage or tempter, exemplar or nemesis, or what Kurt Vonnegut called a “wrang-wrang,” someone who so unappealingly embodies one life choice as to effectively discredit it. Every anecdote you hear sounds like a fable with a moral meant just for you. You start taking fortune cookies seriously.
I can’t help but pause at the crossroads to consider the two irrevocable, radically different futures I have to choose between for this last third of my life.
This tends to happen to me whenever I have a major life decision to make. I am faced with one such decision now — arguably the biggest, after to-be-or-not-to-be. We’re biologically assigned two simple jobs on this planet: surviving and reproducing. I have so far successfully carried out the former and evaded the latter. Now, although this isn’t a pregnancy scare, I am being offered…