Remember when how you felt was the biggest part of you? When you had a feeling and no matter what your mind said you trusted your gut more? My grandmother left Germany in 1931 on such a feeling. It’s not going to be good for Jews here anymore, she said. And she sent her husband to America and then a year later when he had found a job, she joined him with her two children: my mother and my uncle.
I always prided myself on that part of me that was like her. When my friends showed off their family heirlooms, I’d joke, no jewels, but I did get my grandmother’s intuition. There was nothing funny about it. I really have been able to base my most important decisions not on facts but always on feelings.
I remember being in a coffee shop once sitting very close to a mother and her little girl. The five year old said, Mommy how come you and Daddy were fighting last night? And the mother quickly said, oh, we weren’t fighting, honey, that was the TV. And then she did the weirdest thing — she winked at me as if we were in this conspiracy together. I know about little white lies to save kids from worrying but I also know what those lies do to a kid’s natural ability to understand their surroundings. Intuition gets worn down at different times for different people. But mine was always strong.
I’ve had four deaths of people close to me in the last two weeks and somehow I didn’t draw on those special powers of instinctive knowing.
The first one was a young man who had taken one of my earliest workshops 20 years ago, and we have remained friends for all these years. He calls about once every five months and we have a chat, catch up. A week ago he called and I was watching my favorite television show and even though I heard his message, I didn’t pick up. I’ll call him back tomorrow, I planned. But I didn’t get to it the next day. Or the next. And even though his face flashed in front of me two times, I still didn’t pay attention. He always calls. He’ll call back. We just talked a few weeks ago. What more could we possibly say to each other? I hate the phone at night; the compulsive monologue that goes on in my mind when I rationalize my unconscious behavior. And then his sister texted me that he’d had a heart attack in line at the bank. And died. At age 47. And I never called him back. I had spent more time thinking about calling him back than if I had just picked up the phone and dialed. But my ultra busy life, shopping at Cronig’s, watching television, reading emails was just too time-consuming to have made the effort. And now he is gone.
Ten days ago the face of my obstetrician-gynecologist flashed in front of me out of nowhere and I thought, oh I have to call Barbara and Stanley (they are two dear friends and he was the doctor who delivered my son Dan, 42 years ago). But I didn’t do it. Two days after I saw his face in my mind’s eye, I got a call from his daughter in law that he had died.
But I had all those emails to read.
I won’t add fuel to my broken-hearted fire by describing in detail the other two losses. You get the point. Maybe they weren’t earth shattering, get-out-of-Germany-before-it’s-too-late kind of premonitions, but still for me they are huge wake-up calls. I have always known the mind is a great servant but a lousy master. The question now is what do I do to remind myself ?
I think I just did it.
Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice (Hyperion/Little Brown) and teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop. She is a commentator for NPR.