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Why Don’t Miracles Happen to Me?

Mysterious Ways staffer talks with a writer to whom mysterious, miraculous things happen frequently. Will her magic rub off on him?

Mysterious Ways staffer Daniel Hoffman

It popped up in my in-box one or­dinary day, an article titled “The Signs Are Out There,” by Ella Price, a columnist for The Greeneville Sun, a newspaper in Tennessee. Ella had written about an obscure vintage ice cream sign that had shown up in her life, not once but three different times. I wondered if she might have a story for Mysterious Ways.

“Oh, the ice cream sign is just the tip of the iceberg,” Ella said when I called her up. “That kind of stuff always happens to me.” In fact, the name of Ella’s column was “Life Is Mysterious.” We got to talking. She regaled me with tale after tale. Like her chance encounter with the eccentric millionaire who stepped in to save her previous business.

After almost two years at this mag­azine, I’m no stranger to God’s perfect timing. But even to me, Ella seemed to have had an inordinate amount of divine good fortune. And despite all the mystical experiences I regularly came across at work, I’d never had even one myself. My con­versation with Ella left me wondering, Why don’t miracles happen to me?

I was fascinated by Ella’s life. What sort of person attracts so many mira­cles? There was nothing unusual about her—she was in her fifties, married, worked at a children’s home and had three grown children. So what was her secret? To get to the bottom of it, I came up with a plan. Instead of telling one of Ella’s stories in the magazine, I’d do something different: I’d shadow her to find out what I was doing wrong. I couldn’t follow her around in person, of course, since she lived in Tennessee, but I could check in with her from time to time over the phone to discuss the miraculous.

Ella was game, and over the fall of 2016, we struck up a friendship. I started to see her as a Yoda-type figure. She’d tell me about the myste­rious ways in her life, and every now and then, I’d share some particularly thorny personal issue. Such as my impending thyroid surgery to remove cancerous nodules.

“You’re thinking about it too much, Dan,” she said. “You’re making yourself anxious.” She was right. I was driving myself crazy with what-ifs. Ella wasn’t without her own health problems—she had a heart condition. But she knew worry­ing it to death didn’t help. “When you lose your keys,” she told me, “the worst thing you can do is freak out and tear the house apart. Sit back, relax and let the miracles unfold.”

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Point taken. A few days after that conversation, my new plan of attack seemed to be working. I’d had three encounters that didn’t seem acciden­tal at all. First, I’d sat next to a girl on the subway who was reading an essay about the book I was reading… which also happened to be her favor­ite book. That same evening, I’d been looking for a café in my neighborhood when a girl on the street saw me, assumed I was a tourist and asked if I was lost. We got to talking, and she insisted we’d met somewhere.

After wracking our brains, we figured out we’d been to a meditation group to­gether. An hour later, I hopped on the subway and ran into Olivia—a friend I hadn’t seen in a year. I didn’t know what all of it meant. Would one of them become a new love interest? Or introduce me to my future wife? Or help me publish my writing? Maybe simply talking to Ella was bringing about the mysterious in my life!

Or maybe not. Nothing remarkable happened as a result of any of those encounters. “Dead ends,” I told Ella. She suggested I look on the bright side. I’d made three interesting and unexpected connections. That alone was something. I needed to focus more on the positive. But the key ingredient to experiencing miracles couldn’t just be optimism, could it? I sensed there was some­thing more going on. Perhaps I was out of tune somehow.

I tried to keep an open mind. Ella had been planning to spend a spring weekend in New York with her hus­band. “We haven’t been there in ages, and it’ll be fun to meet you face-to-face,” she said. I’d have a chance to observe the master in action. Her timing couldn’t have been better. If anything, my life seemed to be getting less miraculous by the moment.

In March, I’d celebrated my twenty-ninth birthday. I’d felt “nudged,” as many a Mysterious Ways reader would say, to spend it at a monastery in upstate New York, rather than having a party. The perfect way to contemplate the end of my twenties and my miracle talks with Ella. At the retreat, I met a young lawyer. It was love at first sight. Finally! I thought. This is what everything has been leading to…. But the stars didn’t align for me the way they al­ways seemed to for Ella. Nothing happened with the lawyer. Once again, I felt betrayed by the universe.

That spring weekend, I met Ella for lunch at an out-of-the-way restaurant in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. Ella recounted a small miracle that had unfolded on her first day in New York. At the last minute, she’d canceled the hotel reservation she and her husband had made and switched to an Airbnb. “Gut feeling,” she said. The host of the Airbnb rental turned out to be a world-renowned physi­cist. They instantly connected, as if they’d been friends since childhood, and Ella, her husband and the phys­icist spent the entire day together in Manhattan. “Who knows what will come of this friendship?” Ella said.

I saw why Ella attracted the mysterious and miraculous. She followed her instincts. She was positive and effu­sive and made connections easily—with the physicist and with people we met at random in Brooklyn. She struck up a conversation with the man sitting at the table next to ours, a man who’d lived in the neighborhood for years and let us in on its fascinating history. Outside, she connected with a young woman walking a Pomeranian. She even managed to charm a self-proclaimed “miracles cynic,” who’d overheard us talking.

I was a social guy, but I didn’t go out of my way to talk to strangers unless I was in a particularly peppy mood. Did that alone doom me to disappointment?

Ella left for Tennessee the next day. Over the next few weeks, I mulled over everything I’d seen and learned. I understood now why she attracted such good fortune. Still, I felt impossibly far from being able to see and do things her way. I called Ella, frustrated. “It seemed like things were pointing me somewhere—but they weren’t,” I said. Not only with my love life, but with everything.

Ella reminded me that perhaps the meaning of things hadn’t yet been revealed. She mentioned the ice cream sign she’d written about in The Greeneville Sun. The column that had popped up in my in-box all those months ago. “I still don’t understand what that was all about,” she said.

I laughed. “Well, maybe it hap­pened so you could write about it and I would find your column,” I said. Ella gasped.

“Maybe that is why,” she said. I wasn’t being serious, but Ella was. “You’re a miracle conduit, Dan. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have visit­ed New York City. I wouldn’t have eaten at that adorable Brooklyn res­taurant or stayed at that Airbnb. I wouldn’t have met my physicist friend! Did I tell you he’s agreed to give a presentation to the kids where I work? Who knows—he might inspire a future Nobel Prize winner. All thanks to you!”

A miracle conduit? I liked the sound of that. And maybe all the would-be miracles I’d experienced lately would reveal their meaning in due time. If I’d been the person who’d led Ella to so many new connections, then it did seem as if there were something larger at work, something I simply didn’t yet understand.

The recent events in my life began to take on new meaning—or, rather, less meaning, because they no longer seemed to signal that I was forever doomed to missed connections. In trying to understand them, I’d re­duced them to merely unmet expec­tations. But in reality, they were simply inexplicable. The fact was, I had no idea what they all meant—and that was a mystery worth em­bracing. Because who knew what could come next? Even to someone like me.

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