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Story by Tor Pinney                                                                                                                                        Back to List of Tor's Tales

                  

A TIME OF MIRACLES
© 2005 Tor Pinney - All Rights Reserved

 

Some stories don’t start suddenly, but rather seem to emerge out of everything that came before, as if the events were just waiting their turn. Maybe this tale began with the first round of thoughtful writers whose books I read: Kahlil Gibran, Black Elk, Herman Hesse, Carlos Castenada, Yogananda, Maharishi, Alan Watts. Or maybe it was when I learned Transcendental Meditation when I was 20. Yes, I think that was the real beginning. Practicing meditation for a few years set the stage for what followed, priming me with doses of consciousness until I knew something was there.


When I was in my teens and early 20's, what I really wanted more than anything else in the world was to have my own live-aboard cruising sailboat, to go adventuring upon the seven seas. The problem was I had very little money and no idea how to get enough to buy a boat. It was frustrating. I had done my best to make it in show business and, although I’d enjoyed some success, I’d failed to make my fortune. Now I wanted a quick solution. So I became a smuggler.

That brief period of my life saw me through some wild misadventures, all of which led to a day in Atlanta, Georgia when I was putting together a rather complicated deal. Suffice it to say my partners and I thought it would make us rich. Still, there was a part of me that knew this wasn’t a good path to follow. Not that I thought there was anything immoral about marijuana - I didn’t and still don’t - but the business end of it, especially on such a large scale with so much money involved, was dangerous. I was likely to be dealing with some people of dubious character on the buying end, people who might decide to pay me off with a bullet instead of cash, and of course there was the ever-present danger of getting caught and going to prison. That really terrified me. On the other hand, I couldn’t keep on as I had been, broke, depressed and stagnating in Atlanta. I felt I was between a rock and a hard place and I was wrestling with all of this when I got out on I-85, stuck out my thumb and headed north.

In those days I often didn't own a car. Still, I loved to travel and so I had become an habitual hitchhiker. I thought nothing of hittin' the road and hitching a thousand miles to visit someone. It was actually a pretty cool thing to do.

So I was hitchhiking up to New York where I had a few contacts that might help me line up buyers for my new enterprise. Somewhere in southern Virginia I was waiting in the rain for my next ride. It was late in the day and getting cold, so I was particularly grateful when a scruffy little Volkswagen Beetle pulled over to pick me up. However, the instant I opened the door I knew I was in for a tedious time. “Praise the Lord!” the longhaired young driver sang out even before I’d gotten in. “Come on in out of the rain, brother.”

Oh, brother, I thought.

Well, this reborn Christian played his part with gusto, prattling on and on about the Greatness of God and His Word in the Bible as we chugged up I-95 through Richmond. I was just glad to be out of the rain, warm and dry and moving in the right direction. And when this fellow offered me a couch to sleep on for the night at his Christian commune, I readily accepted. Soon I was bedding down in a big old house that he shared with half a dozen other reborn hippies, all of whom praised the Lord for the opportunity to take in a stranger for night. Seems it was the biblical thing to do and they were racking up heavenly points.

All this leads to something my driver said to me the next morning as he delivered me to the Interstate on-ramp. “Brother,” he said, “I sense that you’re deeply troubled about something and I believe the Lord sent you to me for a reason. Whatever it is that’s wrong in your life, if you get to where you don’t know what to do and see no place to turn, let me tell you a prayer that’ll make everything right for you in an instant.” I was getting antsy to get out of the car and on my way, but because this guy had been so hospitable I stayed and listened to him as he recited the prayer.

“Here’s what you do. You just say to God, ‘Lord I’m a sinner and I am lost. I don’t know what to do to fix my life. I can’t do it by myself. I need you to help me. Lord, please come into my life and my heart. I surrender my will to yours. I’ll do whatever you show me to do. Please, God, come in and show me what to do.’” As he finished his “Amen,” I was opening the door and thanking him for the ride and the sofa, glad to be away from the preaching, and within minutes another car picked me up and took me straight through to New York.

I made some inquiries into possible large-volume drug buyers through friends in and around New York City, but it didn’t flow well and I left a week later with just a couple of possible contacts, nothing solid. The fact is my heart wasn’t in this thing. I didn’t really want to do it. I just didn’t have a better idea.

I got out onto I-95 that morning in southern Connecticut with Georgia on my mind. Fifteen hours later I was standing on the shoulder of Interstate 85 somewhere in rural South Carolina, way out in the in the middle of nowhere where my last ride had dropped me off. It was a little past midnight, perfectly clear and moonless. The stars were brilliant and close and infinite. There was precious little traffic on the highway at that hour and the occasional car or truck that did come along just roared on by. I could have camped in some nearby woods for the night, but I wasn’t all that tired and I felt like getting home, even though I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got there. I had no money and no job and I was on the verge of a breakup with my girlfriend. I didn’t have the buyers I had promised my business partners and didn’t really want to pursue that anymore. In fact, by then I had pretty much decided not to do it. So there I was, standing on a dark highway going nowhere, with nothing promising in my life and feeling about as low as it goes.

Then I remembered what that Jesus freak had said; the prayer he’d felt compelled to teach me before we parted. I’d never really believed in praying or in that kind of personal God, but I knew from the past few years of practicing meditation that there is something awesome, a state of being infinitely welcoming beyond this physical world. In deep meditation I had often entered this place, and I had a sense that it must be everywhere, inside, outside and throughout everything.

In fact, I had formed a theory, based on my reading and my experiences in meditation, that this realm or state of being or energy is the base substance, the cosmic ingredient from which all things are made, a sort of common denominator, the stuff from which neutrons and electrons are constructed, the energy that binds them, and even the empty space in between them. And it occurred to me that if this one-ness permeates everything, is everywhere and in everything, then it isn’t so far fetched to suppose that it might actually be conscious and have intelligence, not such a quantum leap of faith considering the obvious and incredible organization of nature and the cosmos. And, I thought, if it were conscious, this Stuff, then it certainly would be capable of understanding and responding to the English language. In that instant I concluded that praying could actually be a way of speaking to all of creation. It just might not be as vain as I had always thought.

Anyway, my life was a mess, nobody was around and I had nothing to lose, so I stood there on that empty Interstate highway and for the first time in my life I prayed, sincerely and from the heart, just the way that Christian hippy had taught me. “Lord,” I said out loud, “I am lost and I don’t know what to do to fix my life. I’m not going to do this smuggling thing. I’ve decided that. I can feel it's the wrong way to go. But I don’t know what else to do. I need help. Please, God, let me into your heart and come into mine. Come into my life and show me what to do. I surrender my will to yours. God, show me what to do now and I’ll do it.”

What happened next has stayed with me all these decades since. I must have had my arms raised because I instantly felt an enormous surge of power, an inconceivably huge energy flow into and through them and into my body. It was as if I had grabbed hold of a 440-volt electric cable, only the energy was benign and blissfully fulfilling. It just poured into me until I was trembling with it. “Oh, God,” was all I could think or say. This wonderful power filled me up and kept on coming. I’d never felt anything like it before in my life.

After some time I became aware again of where I was and I felt - I knew­ - that God – the Spirit, the Cosmic Consciousness, whatever you want to call it - had responded to my spoken prayer, directly and positively. I knew at that moment that I was connected to it and it was with me. That was the beginning of my time of miracles and they began immediately, albeit mildly and without fanfare.

I felt so good right then that I didn’t much care whether I got a ride that night or not, but within a minute or two after all this had transpired I heard the unmistakable whine of a lone18-wheeler approaching from the north, Soon it came roaring down the highway - must’ve been doing 80. Now, I had caught rides from truckers before, but always at an on ramp where they aren’t even out of second gear yet. I’d never seen one pull over for a hitchhiker once he was traveling at full speed, but this trucker caught sight of me in his headlights, braked hard and pulled onto the shoulder as if on cue, and I grabbed my pack and ran to him. As I climbed up into the cab he drawled, “I’m goin’ straight through to Atlanta tonight. How ‘bout you, good buddy?”

When I got home things immediately started falling into place, seemingly of their own accord. First, I learned that a key player in my smuggling plan, the main supplier, had decided to back out of the deal. That enterprise was not going to happen and I wasn’t letting anyone down by my earlier decision to pass on it. I told my girlfriend that I felt we had grown apart and maybe it was time to go our separate ways, and I set a date to move out of our shared apartment. Then a freak ice storm hit Georgia, knocking down trees and branches all over Atlanta. I grabbed a saw and an axe and spent a week earning good money clearing people’s yards for them. In no time I had a little wad of cash.

And God started talking to me. Not in a great, booming voice from the sky, but quietly inside my head, in a voice that was my own and yet separate from me and infinitely wiser. One of the first things he said was, “If you want to be on sailboats so badly, then be on sailboats. Go!”

It was so obvious. Why hadn’t I thought of it before? Right then I decided to move to the coast and start being around boats, but first I needed a vehicle to get me there. That flowed, too. I came across a faded blue 1960 International pickup truck stuck out in a field behind a gas station, for sale for $100. I felt I’d been guided to it and, thanks to the ice storm, I had the hundred dollars, so I bought it on the spot and for as long as I owned her “Old Blue,” as I called the truck, never let me down.

At last, on a fine spring day just a few weeks after my epiphany on I-85, I packed my meager belongings into the back of the pickup, gave my girlfriend one last kiss goodbye, and headed towards the North Carolina coast. My idea was to find a job with a boat builder or in a boatyard and start learning how boats are put together. However, all my plans at that point were open to guidance. I was beginning to practice what I came to call the art of surrender and it served me well, much better than I could have served myself.

As I proceeded I had a strong, constant sense of connectedness with God, a feeling of being assisted and guided. By then I was talking to him – I thought of God as “him,” maybe because his voice inside me sounded like my own masculine voice. Or maybe it was just social conditioning. Anyway, I was talking to him freely and he was talking back. I could ask any question, anything at all, and he would answer it clearly and wisely. I would often speak out loud (but he wouldn’t) and if anyone had overhead me they surely would have thought me crazy. Maybe I was, but it was a good kind of crazy and I felt wonderful. I was aware of God’s energy most of the time now. It was a background presence that I could call forward just by paying attention to it.

God, Old Blue and I stuck to secondary highways, working our way northeast out of Georgia and into the Carolinas. That afternoon I spotted a revival tent pitched alongside the road with a lot of cars parked around it, and on impulse I pulled over and went inside. It was a lively congregation of rural Southerners, whites and coloreds together, and they were carrying on in ways I’d never seen before. A ragtag band was banging out upbeat country hymns from a makeshift stage and people clapped their hands and sang along. Some folks, taken by the spirit, staggered into the isles and danced jigs or just flailed their arms around, eyes rolled back, one or two of them even speaking in tongues. It was a wild, primitive kind of celebration and I knew they really were filled with some of that incredible energy I’d felt. They just had a different way of tapping into it, different ways of expressing it.

I said Old Blue never let me down, but she did tease me once or twice. One day we were cruising through farm country far from any town when I realized the fuel gauge was reading nearly empty. I kept hoping I’d come across a gas station, but as the needle bottomed out things didn’t look promising. When the engine finally did sputter and die we were at the top of a rise surrounded by farmland, a couple of houses just visible in the far distance. I let her coast downhill and as we began to decelerate we rounded a bend in the road and guess what I saw. Yep, there sat a little country store with a gas pump out front, probably the only one in the whole county. With her last ounce of momentum, Old Blue rolled into the driveway and came to a halt exactly alongside the pump. Hallelujah! How many times in your life does that happen? I was learning that miracles don’t always come with the grandeur of a parting sea. Sometimes they’re just little things working out when it doesn’t seem likely. Still, my miracles were about to become, if not spectacular, at least more blatant.

I found my way to a back road boatyard outside Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. Approaching the owner – a big, burly man with a hard manner and a good heart – I asked for a job, telling him I didn’t know much about boats yet, but wanted to learn all about them from the bottom up. Well, that’s what he had in mind, too, and soon I was scraping and painting boat bottoms in the haul-out slip for minimum wage.

At first I lived in Old Blue there at the yard, sleeping in the open truck bed, but that wasn’t so handy when it rained. So, once I’d gotten a couple of paychecks, I rented a cottage a few miles away on a dirt road. This cottage was one of several that the old landlady was renting out, and she’d mentioned there were some young married couples further down the lane. Sure enough, each morning I began noticing a really good looking woman about my age walk past my place to the mail boxes at the head of the road and back again. Well, I was lonely for female company since leaving my girl in Atlanta, so one day when this cutie walked by I decided I would go out and talk to her when she passed again on her way back to her cottage. I confess my intentions were not entirely honorable even though I knew she was married.

I was sweeping the floor of my cottage when she first passed, and I was thinking of a good opening line to strike up a conversation when she came back. No sooner did I make that decision to approach her than I noticed something glitter in the little pile of dust I was pushing with the broom. Without thinking I bent down and picked it up to see what it was. There in my hand was a small, flat bit of gold, a little charm from a charm bracelet, and it had writing on it. What it said was, “Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” and as I read it I felt the distinctive tingle of that energy presence I was coming to know so well. I can feel it now just recounting the story. I mean, how much more direct can a message be? Needless to say, I did not speak to the woman when she passed by a few minutes later, heading back to her cottage. When God tells you not to mess around, you best listen.

Often God and I would get into lengthy discussions. Of course, it would be easy for an outsider to write this off as my own wishful thinking, or hallucinations, or maybe even schizophrenia if it weren’t for the physical acts, the “miracles,” that occasionally accompanied these dialogues.

For example, one time I was walking on an empty ocean beach that stretched to the horizon in both directions, talking to God about how I missed my girlfriend and maybe I should give her a call in Atlanta and see if she’d like to join me here. God replied, “If you want to keep her that much, marry her,” and just then I saw a glint of something shiny in the sand at my feet and I picked it up. It was a gold wedding band! I had kicked up a gold ring buried in the sand on a deserted 50-mile beach at the very instant that God said, “Marry her.” Now, you tell me, what are the odds of that happening accidentally? Anyway, I thought about it and concluded that, no, I’m not ready to take it that far with that girl and I didn’t call her. I did hang onto the ring as a keepsake, but it has long since disappeared – I have no idea where or when I lost it. I do still have the Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbor’s Wife charm, though, a bit of physical proof (to me, at least) that I didn’t imagine all this stuff.

Another day out on the beach, still empty in the cool, breezy spring weather, I sat in the sand facing the sea, chatting with God about this and that. Finally, I said out loud, “I’m bored. I’d sure like something to do.” No sooner had I spoken the words than a wave, somewhat larger than the others I’d been watching break on the shore, came tumbling in with a roar. I realized as it broke that it might reach up to where I sat, so I stood up to avoid getting my bottom soaked. Then I spotted something colorful in the foaming crest and as I stood there, the wave washed up onto the beach within an inch or two of my toes and deposited a Frisbee at my feet. Then it receded and the ocean’s wave pattern returned to normal. I scooped up the Frisbee, laughed and shouted, “Thank you,” and spent the next half hour or so flinging the saucer high into the sea breeze, running to catch it as it returned to me boomerang style. When I’d had enough I spun it out into the ocean whence it had come and left the beach feeling positively buoyant.

These kinds of little miracles were happening to me so regularly that they began to seem almost normal. Sometimes it would just be the way things flowed for me; my life seemed to move along easily and without resistance. Of course, the in-your-face miracles were the most impressive, and there were lots of those, too.

Towards the end of that first summer I sold Old Blue and signed onto a southbound sailboat as crew. That got me to Fort Lauderdale, where I worked briefly on a construction site. Happily, this God I was getting to know wasn’t at all self-righteous, judgmental or prudish. One afternoon I was walking along a sidewalk once again feeling lonely for the company of a woman and I said, “God, won’t you please send me a woman, at least for the night?” I reached the corner just as I finished this request and a car pulled up and stopped at the stop sign there. A pretty girl looked over at me from the driver’s seat, smiled and said, “Hey, you need a ride somewhere?” Just like that, so help me…God, and she and I did wind up spending a rewarding night together.

This is not to say God gave me everything I asked for. I suppose he always answered me, but sometimes the answer was no. This seemed to be the case with the sailboat I so desperately craved, although even that came to me in time and in an unorthodox manner.

My favorite miracle happened in Coconut Grove, a village on the south side of Miami that was a bohemian community in those days. When I first drifted into town I found my way onto a group of small islands just off the city marina. They were entirely unpopulated when I got there because, I learned through the grapevine, the police had just gone out a week or two before and run off all the hippies that had been squatting there. So my timing was perfect. I had the islands all to myself and the police never dreamed anyone would be brazen enough to move in so soon after their recent sweep. For my part, I once again had no money so renting a room was not an option. I found an ideal spot at the outer end of the outermost island, erected a driftwood lean-to, and called it home for the next three months. During that time, no one ever bothered me or my meager belongings.

The way things were flowing for me in those days I was grateful if not particularly surprised when a friend volunteered to introduce me to the banquet manager at the Coconut Grove Hotel. The manager, a stuffy but decent Austrian fellow, in turn offered me a much-needed job as a waiter, saying I could start later that week. All I had to do was show up with a white shirt and black trousers, bowtie, shoes and socks. The hotel would provide the short waiter’s jacket and an employees’ locker room in which I could shower and change before work. Great, now all I had to do was get the required outfit…with the $2.85 in my pocket that represented my total net worth at that time.

I hitchhiked to downtown Miami (to save the bus fare) and went to a Goodwill store. There I found a handsome tuxedo shirt, fitted black slacks, socks and a bowtie for a grand total of $2.50. But there was no way I could afford a pair of shoes, even used ones from Goodwill.

Now, the way my islands were positioned, to go home I had to first catch a dinghy ride from the dock from one of the sailors heading out to the anchorage. They would drop me off on what was called the careening beach, across a narrow channel from the marina’s Pier 1. From there I would traverse the tiny first island, walk along a second short beach to a partially-submerged sandbar that I’d wade across to reach the larger outer island. There I followed a padded path for a few minutes through tall Australian pines to the outermost tip of that island and my campsite, where I enjoyed peace, privacy and panoramic views of Biscayne Bay and the uppermost Florida keys. Four miles to the north, downtown Miami gleamed in the sun like a giant, white ice cream cake.

Returning from the Goodwill store, I got dropped off on the first beach. As I walked across the little island carrying my small bundle of waiter’s clothes I was fretting about the shoes I needed and couldn’t afford. I really wanted that job, but they weren’t likely to overlook the worn flip-flops that were my only footwear. My mind was fully occupied with this dilemma when I stepped out onto the second beach, but there I spotted something that brought my attention careening into the present moment and to this day it gives me a little chilly thrill when I think about it. There, smack in the middle of the crescent beach, sitting side by side in the sand, clean and perfectly dry, was a pair of black leather shoes, exactly the kind of shoes a hotel banquet waiter might wear. I looked around. No one was there, not anywhere. I was alone on the island. The shoes sat there in the middle of the beach like a prop, waiting. Finally, I approached and slipped my foot into one of them. Cinderella never knew such a perfect fit! These shoes could have been custom made for my doublewide feet (and for all I know, they were). Now, try to tell me God didn’t put those shoes there at that very moment just for me. Halleluiah one more time! Can I get an amen!

I took the shoes and got the job. For months after that I worked banquets, soon earning enough money to buy first a little lateen-rigged skiff with which I could commute to my island and practice sailing on the bay, and eventually my first live-aboard sailboat, Thumper. I worked long hours on my feet and I can honestly say those shoes were the best fitting and most comfortable I have ever owned.

Gradually my amazing relationship with God faded. I wasn’t aware of it happening. It didn’t just stop one day, but sort of trailed off. Maybe I was taking it so much for granted that I stopped doing something I needed to do to keep it going. Maybe I became distracted by my pursuit of sailboats and, later, my pursuit of money for better sailboats. Maybe God had just had enough of me. I don’t know. Somewhere along the way we stopped chatting and the miracles stopped happening.

Or maybe they didn’t really stop. Maybe I just stopped noticing them.

These stories I’ve related are only a few examples of the magical things that happened to me almost daily while I was living in that special state of grace. Were they really miracles? Was the Universal Spirit, God Himself, actually cruising around with me, chatting and manifesting cool things for my amusement? Or were all these events just quaint coincidences despite their incredible timing and frequency? I know what I think. I can only guess what various readers might conclude. No matter. We all live our own realities. And anyway, we’ll probably find out eventually.

In all these years I’ve only told this tale to a couple of people. I come from a family of atheists so I wasn’t inclined to share it with them, and while most of my friends probably believe in something, none are particularly religious. That’s all right with me. I don’t care much for any of the so-called organized religions. I suspect they’ve done more harm in this world than good over the centuries, and current events do nothing to improve this opinion.

For my part, I’ve never felt called upon to preach about my experiences. It’s something that happened to me and I offer it as simply that. The reason I finally wrote it down now is that I believe I’m beginning to recapture some of that magic again, some of that one-on-one relationship with God. It’s not as strong yet as it was back in the day, the miracles aren’t as blatant, but I’m starting to notice them again and that’s a start. Perhaps more will come. Meanwhile, I’m working on paying attention, being present, and practicing meditation and the art of surrender to the extent that my consciousness enables me. For now it’s enough just to know I’m still connected.

I’ve never enjoyed my life more than when I lived with that spirit, that amazing grace I knew during my time of miracles. If I’m finally getting back to that now, then I pray I hang onto it this time.

Can I get an amen?

~ End ~

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