Asking For A Sign

I start my new year with a memory of autumn, and that horrible day.

I have just moved back into the city from the suburbs. I am in my apartment, which is not an apartment really, as apartments are where people live, and no one could live here. There are no bathrooms, no kitchen, and no air-conditioning because I am afraid to plug in anything since the new contractor (who replaced the fired contractor) has noticed that when you hit this wall with your hand, all the electricity goes off and we may have a wee, new, costly problem.

It is late morning, damp and dark; a storm is coming. I walk around opening boxes to see if this makes me feel better, which it doesn’t because there’s no place to put anything away, and anyway I don’t need an eggbeater at the moment. I sit down on a box of sweaters and sag to the floor as a whoosh of plaster dust settles on my loafers. I am alone, awaiting the arrival of my son, who’s been on a trip with Dad before school starts in two days. And I am in a full spew of self-pity, a full stew of selfpity, a thick bubbling mass of sorrow.

Peg waiting for a signI put my head in my hands and I say, “Oh, Lord, I am sad and frustrated and angry and scared, and everything has been a failed struggle for months. I am not sure I have done the right thing, I am not sure I am in the right place, and my son to whom I’d promised the house will be ready by school time is about to see that it won’t, and will now return to his old school not from a stable place with his pictures on the wall and new khakis folded in the drawer but from plastic bags of wash in a busy, buzzing, low-rent hotel where there is only a little rickety desk for him to do his homework on. And I need a sign. I need a sign that we’re in the right place and I did the right thing and things will get better. Plus, it’s my birthday. Thank you.”

The next day, a friend I hadn’t spoken to in five weeks called me, and his first words were exactly this: Your move has been ratified by both God and nature.


You don’t know, he says. Your old house-there was a storm in New Jersey. And there’s a tree in your old family room. God and nature’s way of saying your family room should be somewhere else.

I call my oId neighbor, and she says no one is hurt and the tree’s not actually in the house but leaning against it, and it wasn’t just any storm, but a tornado. With lightning. And thunder.

Well. That would be a sign. And just two hours after I asked for it.

But then, the morning after the flying tree, the better, more important sign came. First day of school, my son up and at ’em early, jacket and tie on, looking tall and handsome. And with excitement and trepidation he gets to school, where there’s a big line of kids waiting to shake the headmaster’s hand. And my son approaches and sees someone he knows and joins him. And another friend comes, and someone says, “There’s Will!” and he’s surrounded, and his old friend Tyler is looking at him with broken-faced joy. And my son is standing there laughing, bashful, and full of delight.

And suddenly I thought: his fantasy! He had told me six months earlier that he had a secret wish that one day he would return to his old school and someone would say, “There’s Will!” and he’d be surrounded by his friends and they’d all be laughing and happy together, like old times.

Well. It is a rare thing in life, a truly rare thing, when you get to witness your child’s fantasy exactly come true. And that’s when I knew: I did the right thing. And that’s when I said: Thank you .

The moral being . . . well, this, I think: We all constantly make decisions, big ones and small ones, and so often we’re leaping in the dark, flying blind. And you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing, and sometimes it takes years to know. But now and then you get a definitive answer.

It’s rare that you get such a moment. But I did. The lesson for the coming year being, I guess: Do your best, try your hardest, make your decision, hope for a break and if it doesn’t happen, make a plea, ask for a gift. Keep your eyes open. Look for signs. Both the ones that roar in like tornadoes and the ones that enter softly, on the feet of bashful delight.