For a few years, while walking around our neighborhood or on my morning run, I would see a woman. She had a halo of fuzzy brown hair. Sometimes I heard her speaking on the phone in Italian. The first time I saw her she was pregnant and pushing a stroller with another child in it. The next time I saw her she added a dog on a leash. As the months rolled by she switched to a double stroller after she had her baby.
I would see her several days in a row. I would see her in different streets than the usual streets I frequented. One time, while my wife and I were in a meeting at a new school for our child, in a building we had never been in before, the fuzzy-haired woman burst into the room, looked around, seemed to realize she was in the wrong room, and ran out.
Naturally, I started to look for a pattern. Why was I seeking this person so often? Several times, as I ran past her in the morning, I looked at her and smiled. She never met my eyes or smiled back. I would see her walking and nod. She never nodded back. I wondered if she was in another dimension or some other plane of existence, or another time.
We were connected somehow in a pattern of entanglement. What was the pattern? During this period my father was dying. I started to think of her as an Angel of Death. She had some relationship, was a signal or sign, of my father’s life unwinding. After he died, I didn’t see her again for months.
A couple of weeks ago I started seeing a guy on a motor scooter. He was an older man, with a goatee, always wore a white helmet, and his scooter was also white. He had a comical birdhouse strapped to the back of his scooter. I saw him zipping by when I ran in the morning. Again and again. Different times, different streets. I wondered what he signified. Was I seeing beyond the visible spectrum? That vision would be a useful storytelling skill.
Storytelling is pattern recognition. You have to pick out the events that shape a story. At first only you can see them, like the fuzzy-haired woman who appeared only to me. You use disconnected events to build a story.
As strange as these entanglements are I’ve realized they are useful as a practice. I’m writing a book about being a parent. As we say in parenting, the days are like years, and the years are like minutes. There are lots of events to choose from to tell the story of parenting. You have to pick the right events, using pattern recognition, to tell the tale.
The last time I saw the fuzzy haired woman my wife alssaw her. It was Halloween. We were walking among revelers in costume. My wife was a witch. I was Steve Jobs. Our son was a tiger. The fuzzy haired woman appeared. She walked past us. She wasn’t in costume. Just walking among the revelers in their costumes of death, not acknowledging any of them, not acknowledging me when I nodded to her. But she knew me. I could tell. She understood that I had grasped the pattern and was using it to tell a story.