I was sitting in a McDonald's parking lot, alternately sobbing and sucking down gulps of a mocha frappe. I was trying to decide if I'd just experienced a minor miracle, or if I was simply reading too much into a common coincidence.
Here's what had happened shortly beforehand...
After 22 years as a real estate title examiner, it was my last day on the job. I'd accepted a new position in a new field, and I was, in most respects, excited to be making the change.
I'm all for opportunity and growth, but change for me never comes without a fair amount of nostalgia, reflection, and second-guessing. Was I doing the right thing, abandoning an established career to start a new job midlife?
So there I was, full of doubt on my last day of work in the land evidence vault of a city hall where my late father, a real estate attorney, had trained me to search titles decades prior. I was feeling a bit wistful. I could remember specific moments there with my Dad as if they'd happened just yesterday. His instruction on the quirks of different indexing periods. His rapport with the clerks who worked in the office. My mixture of pride and intimidation when he introduced me to other attorneys and examiners as his daughter -- their reactions made it clear I was going to have to work hard to measure up.
All of that seemed so impossibly recent as I worked on my final title search in that city hall. I had a sudden understanding of what older people always cautioned me would happen: that life would move more quickly with every passing year. How could my father already be four years gone when I could so easily remember which tie he'd worn and the jokes he'd made and the sort of sandwich he'd had for lunch on a day more than 20 years ago?
These were the thoughts running through my head as a colleague's gasp interrupted my work.
"Oh my God," she said, extracting a slip of paper from a land evidence book and passing it to me. "Is that your father's handwriting?"
I looked, and my breath caught in my chest. I blinked back tears and tried to appear nonchalant as I took the piece of paper from her.
There it was, my Dad's name and old office phone number, written in his own distinctive hand on a copy request slip dated in 1998. Somehow, it had been stuck in a land evidence book all these years, and had fallen out just as I worked on my very last title search in the city vault where my father trained me.
You truly could have knocked me over with a feather.
"Wow, how about that?" I said as calmly as possible.
Then, of course, I retreated to the ladies' room for a good cry.
It's just a coincidence, I told myself. Except, of course, that I'd learned long ago that coincidences are rarely, if ever, the chance occurrences we think they are.
Still, my brain remains stubbornly rational, so by the time I completed my work and left city hall - with the copy slip tucked into my bag - I had almost dispelled the feeling of magic.
I got into my car, and the radio blasted as I started the engine. It was Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," one of the staples in my father's repertoire for singing his children to sleep.
The lyrics at that moment?
Sail on silvergirl,
Sail on by.
Your time has come to shine.
All your dreams are on their way.
See how they shine.
I felt the lump rising in my throat. It's just a coincidence, I told myself again. I put on my sunglasses and continued on my way.
Then another of my father's favorite songs came on the radio. And another after that. The common theme was taking chances, following dreams, and making a fresh start.
I lost it.
"Okay, I get it," I cried, casting my eyes skyward. "It's not just a coincidence."
I swung into the McD's drive through, parked the car, and commenced ingesting my feelings through a straw. My mind ticked madly away, considering things.
In 1998 my father had filled out a little piece of paper and tucked it into a book at city hall. It was a perfectly ordinary thing in the course of a perfectly ordinary work day for him - until it resurfaced, years after his death, on the very day I was somberly and uncertainly concluding the career he'd taught me.
I held that copy slip in my hands and shook my head at all the things we can't explain in this world. I began to feel a sense of certainty: that love, like everything else, changes. But it doesn't die.
And I felt myself fill with gratitude.