On January 20, I attended A Night for Freedom in New York City, and it was absolutely awesome. The most amazing part of my experience wasn’t at the event though. It was a divine encounter on the (relatively) quiet streets of Manhattan at one a.m.
As I was walking back to my hotel, tired from a night of fun and festivities, I was approached by a woman in her 70s. She explained to me that her car had been stolen and she needed help getting her bags back to her apartment.
My first thought, being a rationally skeptical human being who grew up on a farm, was that this was some kind of tourist trap and that this innocent-looking woman would lead me to a dark alley where her five massive sons would rob me blind.
Despite this, I decided to help her and embrace this circumstance. I loaded as many of the heavy bags onto my arms as I could and we set off, coincidentally in the direction I was headed anyway.
As we walked, I didn’t say much, and instead just listened to her tell me her story. She explained her situation in greater detail, telling me about how she’d been helping a friend with some charity work, and was storing these donated goods (that I was now carrying).
She began to explain why she needed my help and couldn’t carry the bags herself (an explanation I didn’t particularly need as I could barely manage and I’m 50 years younger). She told me she was a doctor, and after attending a medical conference about rare diseases was diagnosed with one such ailment. She was told she had two years to live.
She capped off the story with the fact that this diagnosis had been made 35 years ago.
It was so unbelievable that it put the final nail in the coffin of my anxieties about getting robbed. There’s no way, if she did have malevolent plans, she would concoct such a crazy story.
I inquired as to how she had managed to beat the disease, and she told me that she hadn’t done a damn thing.
Curious, I asked what her attitude toward the diagnosis had been. “When I heard it, I didn’t react much,” she said. “In fact, the doctor was more upset than I was.” To her, the diagnosis didn’t change anything about her reality, because she already believed that she would only be alive for as long as she had a purpose on the Earth — as long as God wanted her here.
So, the news that she would die within the next two years changed nothing about her expectations of life.
While this didn’t offer an airtight explanation of how she managed to survive 33 years past the most optimistic estimate, it did offer an interesting and powerful perspective on life. If you believe with absolute confidence that you’ll live on in this world so long as you still have a purpose to fulfill, and that you will only die when your purpose has been fulfilled, it provides you with a sense of security. It becomes very hard to be fearful or anxious about death with this mindset. I can’t say whether this perspective was the reason she lived so long, but it likely helped. Even if it didn’t, it’s an incredibly courageous reaction to one’s own mortality.
Of course, 35 years with a degenerative disease takes a toll, and she couldn’t do much in the way of physical labor, thus her one a.m. predicament on this cold New York City night.
I was so blown away by this story. What an incredible and interesting person I’d stumbled upon! As we walked, I thought to myself that this was like a mythical story — stumbling in the dead of night upon the one magical individual that held the secret to life.
That lead me to realize how easily this encounter could’ve never happened. If I’d been less open to the chaotic order of reality, I would’ve just walked back to my hotel and fallen asleep.
What stood out in my thoughts was the route I had chosen to walk that night. Originally, I’d plotted my path on my phone before leaving the event, and designed it so that I could navigate New York’s grid-like streets with the utmost efficiency.
But, as I walked, I kept missing the walk signals to cross streets. It got to the point of being annoying, so I decided to go with the flow and just walk whichever way the walk signal was active. As long as I generally headed west, I would get to my hotel.
And, those signals led me straight to this divine encounter. I’m not advocating that a higher being organized reality to lead me to that spot at that moment, but I can say with almost complete certainty that if I’d taken my original route, nothing even remotely as awesome would have happened.
In my last article, I introduced you to the fundamental roadmap of life and explained that most new circumstances will be positive (outside of particularly high-risk scenarios).
It’s very easy to follow the straight and narrow path, especially for those like me that are particularly risk-averse. However, in trying to remove variance from our experiences, we close ourselves off to the majority of positive new circumstances. We say no to the world.
I’d planned my route precisely to avoid as much variance and new circumstance as possible. However, when I started just following the walk signals, I opened myself to the chaotic beauty of the world, knowing that if I did encounter some new circumstance, it would most likely be positive. I’m striving to do this more often — to say yes to the world.
Additionally, this amazing experience may not have happened if I’d let my anxiety about the potential dangers of saying yes stop me from embracing the circumstance. A year or two ago, that would’ve been the case.
Dr. Jordan Peterson, a ridiculously intelligent and verbose Canadian professor of psychology, has taught me many lessons. Chief among them is that there’s a monster inside all of us. Once you fully realize this, it gives you the ability to be truly virtuous (there can be no virtue without the potential for evil), and it also gives you a certain degree of confidence, in knowing that you’re capable of, for instance, defending yourself.
That’s not to say that I had some illusion about fighting off multiple robbers, each twice my size, like an action movie hero. But I understood that I could pose a threat to somebody, and that changes how I walk, talk, and look. This all communicated to a potential mugger that I won’t be the easiest target, and often, that’s enough to deter an attack. This is the same idea as is behind the joke: “I don’t have to outrun the monster, I just have to outrun my friend.” A predator targets the weakest prey, so you don’t have to be the strongest to avoid attack, just not the weakest.
I also had enough confidence in my mental facilities to recognize if the situation got potentially dangerous, like if she began to lead me down an alley out of sight of any passersby.
All of this gave me the confidence I needed to be able to say yes to a circumstance that could easily end very negatively, because I knew that I could mitigate that risk, and handle it if it manifested.
Jumping back into the story . . . We began to talk about the state of society. Naturally, she was a bit upset about the theft of her car, and as a result had a lot of negative things to say about “people these days”. While I tend to agree that society needs a lot of improvement, there’s a lot worth defending about today’s society. So we went back and forth, discussing what we loved and hated about “people these days”, and I learned a lot from the perspective of someone who’d seen many more cultural shifts than I.
Ultimately, as we came to the end of our trek, she began to thank and praise me profusely. On the topic of how society could improve, we can all learn from the older generations, who seem much more genuine in their praise.
“It’s amazing to meet someone chivalrous randomly on the street!” she said. “You’re intelligent, compassionate, strong, and courageous.” She also named many other virtues, most of which I didn’t think I had.
“You must be an angel,” she said.
I was particularly struck by this, because despite my skepticism toward angels, the compliment ranked among the best that I’ve ever received.
To her, an angel is the pinnacle of virtue. The purest being next to God himself, the most perfect being. She’d called me an example of the greatest capacity for human virtue.
Of course, I had a giant smile across my face as she told me all this, as anyone would. I tried my best to express my own happiness at having met her, and praised her for her admirable mindset in the face of her own mortality.
We said our farewells and I began the short walk to my hotel riding on high from the whole experience.
As I continued to consider what she’d said to me, I was struck by how starkly her assessment of me contrasted with my own. Before the encounter, I’d been spending my walk analyzing the social interactions I had, or hadn’t, made that night, and criticising myself for everything I thought I’d done wrong. I was getting down on myself, feeling I’d failed to take full advantage of an opportunity.
And then there was this complete stranger who saw me as an angel! What an impossible gap. Surely, one of us had to be wrong.
I’ve spent a great deal of time exploring how to create a healthy, useful, and honest self-image, and it’s still an ongoing process. This experience gave me a new perspective — to see myself as others see me. And not just any others — those that see me as virtuous and admirable.
When she told me that I was an angel, she’d been completely honest. She’d told me the truth as she saw it. Perhaps in the time that I knew her, I was angelic. I know I’m certainly not angelic all the time, yet in this story — in her story — I was a divine being. (The topic of seeing yourself as your detractors see you is a much more complicated topic for another time.)
I’ve tried to cover a lot in this article, so to summarize why this story should matter to you . . .
My lifelong friend and pantheon member Will Swyers, a genius on the topic of stories, has taught me that we all have experiences that seem mythical, like they could be out of some masterwork of fiction, filled with hidden meaning, symbolism, and undertones. This was one such experience.
All the individual stories of your life, as well as the larger story of your existence, have this mythical quality. Sometimes, it’s just harder to see.
There are lessons hidden in every moment of our lives and every circumstance that we work through. The fundamental roadmap of life could just as easily be the fundamental roadmap of a story. Each new circumstance we encounter is a new story, and just like in the stories we all love, there are morals to be derived, understood, and practiced.
This story had three, all of which I intend to write full articles on in the future.
- Say yes to life. Be open to the chaotic order of reality, and take action to maximize new circumstances you encounter.
- Know that you can handle a negative circumstance if it arises. Don’t live in fear of the worst case scenario — prepare for it, however you need to, then dive into the abyss.
- See yourself as others see you. Specifically those others that revere you, and accept their assessment of you as true.