A visitor to the Georgetown Heritage Center, the old restored schoolhouse that hosts our Plein Air art show (A labor of love), told me a story about visiting a schoolhouse museum in Victoria, British Columbia. (I won’t repeat the story here; it’s his story.) He mentioned the Empress Hotel, which reminded me of my own experience of one of those moments that leave you thinking… was it fate or mere coincidence?
My son, Adam, and I flew to Toronto to see my brother and his family at year’s end 2016. Having planned the journey backwards, we then rode the Via Rail train for five relaxing, scenic days across pristine wilds and waterways, between the dramatic mountains of Jasper National Park in the northern Rockies, and through bustling western Canadian cities, to Vancouver where we boarded a ferry and arrived in charming, historic Victoria in time for Christmas.
Adam surprised me with an extravagant gift: Tea at the Empress, a British-style tradition. We walked up to the grand hotel, reflected with gentle waves in inner Victoria Harbor, around mid-afternoon, slightly late for our appointment. After sampling several carefully selected teas and lovely, rich cookies and cakes, elegantly presented, we tarried a while, in no hurry to leave. Presently, a waitperson walked by leading an Asian family to their table: a young woman, and then an older woman who might be her mother—wait, she looks so much like—and then a tall good-looking Japanese man, gray at the temples, behind her. When I recognized him, I knew for sure that the woman was indeed my friend Valerie, originally from Singapore, whom I knew during my three-plus years living in Japan. It had been five years since I left. Valerie and I met at the International Salon that held language and cultural classes for foreigners in Fuchu, my city near Tokyo. She was one of the last people to come to my flat, to pick up my futon, as I gave away my Japanese belongings. I called out to her; she turned and looked startled; then laughter, hugs, introductions. We joined them at a plush sofa in front of a fire to catch up, chat, and take photos.
We marveled at our chance encounter. So many small details of timing that, had they not happened just that way, we would have missed each other completely. We were running late; they came early. They could have been seated on the opposite side of the spacious room. Her daughter was studying English in Vancouver and they were visiting her in North America, and we had just emerged from our trip across Canada. Neither of us had been to Victoria before, and the teas were booked throughout the day for weeks around the holiday. How many other people from our past might we unknowingly miss every day in our wanderings through our busy lives?
But that story pales in comparison to another incident that happened some years earlier. Once again, chronologically, this story starts in Japan. I had traveled north to Nikko, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its national park, site of the revered shrine where the shogun Tokugawa was interred. In a courtyard, an artist painted dragons with a long flowing motion, quickly and beautifully. As a gift for my son, he painted one in the colors I chose.
When I went to visit Adam, then living in Seattle, during my year-end break, I brought the dragon and planned to get it framed to complete the gift. He had to work several days during my week or so there, so I took advantage of the time on my own to get that done. To my delight, there was a small frame shop owned by a Japanese man, who enjoyed hearing about the origin of my painting. The framer agreed to finish in time for me to pick it up before I left to return to Japan.
The frame shop was a straight shot by bus from my son’s apartment. When I went back to pick it up, I stopped by a shopping center to make a few purchases while I was in the States. I had planned a triangle route: a bus trip to the shopping center first, then a connecting route to the frame shop, and home with the framed dragon on the bus I had taken before. I didn’t want to take taxis; I could do this on mass transit. I made it to the mall and then (as I may have mentioned in an earlier blog, I have a terrible sense of direction) couldn’t find the second bus stop.
I walked to what looked like a main street, checking the bus stop signs on corners, but none held the number of the bus I was seeking. I should call Adam, I thought, but I put it off, walking a little further and checking more signs until I could see what looked like a major intersection with a traffic light ahead. Near the corner, I passed a drug store. I’ll go in here first, I decided, waiting just a little longer before calling for assistance with directions. I went in, browsed a bit, bought something small, asked the clerk about the bus but she didn’t know, and walked out to the street again.
So there I was. I had exhausted other options and it was time to ask for help. I called Adam and explained my predicament.
“Where are you?” he asked.
“Northgate and Roosevelt.” I had already checked the street sign at the intersection.
“Wait a minute.” I pictured him sitting at his computer at work; he could map it and tell me what bus to take from here and where to catch it. I turned to pace in the opposite direction, waiting for his reply.
“Get into the SUV on your right,” he shouted. What?? At that point, I imagined he was playing a video game on the computer and talking to someone else at work. He couldn’t have been talking to me.
And then… the passenger car door of the second vehicle stopped at the traffic light, immediately to my right, opened and Adam stepped out, holding his phone, arms outstretched, big open-mouthed grin on his face!
He pulled open the back door and motioned for me to get in. There were three guys in the car, one driving, Adam in the front, and another young man in the back. The other two looked at me, eyes wide in surprise. I said hello.
“This is my mom,” said Adam, still smiling.
“How did you do that?” I asked him, astonished.
The four of us talked it over and over as they drove me to the frame shop. They were returning from an unusually late lunch nearby and they did not often go out for lunch, and were on their way back to work. He realized that the intersection I named was where he was sitting, looked out the car window, and saw me. So, he hopped out, seeing that I had turned and would be walking away.
“I was wondering why you were letting in some woman from the street!” one of his friends exclaimed.
Of course, Adam was the only one of us who knew both sides of the story; he was amused to no end. As I was writing this, I imagined background music for that moment when he emerged from the car: a high-pitched tingle evoking a magic spell, or a symphony building to a crescendo, or maybe the Twilight Zone theme. And, through the years, we have examined all those little timely details that brought us together in that exact spot at that precise moment. Fate or coincidence?
When Adam visited me in Japan, we journeyed to Nikko on our travels and located the artist, Tetsuya Abe, in his shop in town. Adam commissioned a matching dragon and watched it being created, both of which hang to this day in his living room.