One of my mantras is ‘Coincidence has a Name!’ There are no chance encounters. What we call detours are usually intended destinations but simply not in our planner or agenda. Part of participation with the flow of the redeeming genius and creativity of the Spirit is to be present enough to pay attention to the glory and kind humor that surrounds us, even in the midst of profound loss and agony.
I was recently doing a book-signing at a Mall in Johannesburg and I meet her, Susanna.
The manager had told me about her, about how many copies of The Shack she had bought and through them engaged her students, girls in Grade 9, many from an intensely difficult background in the township of Soweto. She is a steely wisp, a twenty-something, carrying compassionate determination while light slips through her eyes and words as we share time and hugs.
She asks me to sign two blank sheets of paper for two of her students: one who had just days before attempted suicide and her best friend who was there. Later, I signed another for her entire Grade 9 class. One of Susanna’s students had watched her brother be killed on the streets and many of them working to rebuild the war torn bits of their sense of worth that had been disintegrated by abuse and crushing circumstance.
A few people had gathered for the event and it was time for me to speak.
Earlier that day, I had been told that I would be doing a “reading” from EVE, the novel I was there to help launch into South Africa. I borrowed my publicist Anje’s copy and quickly scanned pages as we rode the train from Jo-Burg to Pretoria. I dog-eared two sections as possibilities and that evening as I opened EVE, I made the choice on the latter.
It was from pages 149-151, a conversation between Lilly, a broken 15 year old girl, and EVE, the mother of all creation.
As I read, I started getting choked up, emotion unexpectedly rising to the surface. My pauses between phrases were witness to the struggle I was having to keep my sense of composure.
I am always curious when this happens. I never know what is triggering something within me or around me, the invisibles within or without. It was a short passage and I closed the book.
I then spent the next hour responding to questions and after that another hour signing books. Susanna waited. We sat together and she opened up a copy of EVE to the pages I had read. Her eyes were filled with tears.
“It is astounding to me,” she said, as she looked at the pages open between us, “That you would choose this passage, of anything in the entire book, you picked this.’ I waited.
“You see,” she continued, “What you don’t know is that a few weeks ago one of my girls succeeding in killing herself. Since then there has been a domino effect and six other girls have tried to do the same, including the girl you wrote the note to and the other, who witnessed her best friend succeed. The method? They jumped off a building.”
I was already crying and now there weren’t any words but those embedded in the tears and the hugs. The passage I had “chosen” randomly, by chance, coincidently, on a whim or whatever other term we use to distance ourselves from the always present activity of the Spirit, contained these words that Lilly is speaking:
“I feel like I’m climbing a mountain that has no top. I’m barely holding on to the rock wall. I’m scared, and everyone expects me to make it. If I don’t, it’s like all that’s wrong in the world is going to be my fault.” Lilly leaned her face into the woman’s neck and whispered, holding back emotions. “What if I can’t do this and I let go? Or, what if I jump, will God still catch me?”
“He will, but to you it will feel as though you hit the ground.”