I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” and in it she talks about how the universe serves up magic and mystery all the time if we are open to it. In recent months, I’ve had some seriously big magic that made me believe in the mysterious magic of the universe. I have to go back years (okay, decades) to my sophomore year of college. I was stuck in the mire of indecision about my major. Accepted into the well known business school, my path was set but, it was not serving me well. I hated the classes, was bored to tears, and cringed at the thought of sitting at a desk looking at numbers the rest of my life. Numbers have never been my thing, but I had the grades to land a spot in the Accounting major. I slogged through because the prospect of having a job right after graduation was my carrot. My heart, though, was within the pages of books in my literature courses. I had a few of them in my beginning years and I’d pass on the finance homework just to read one more page. I’ve always been a reader, but reading as a major was different. It made me fall in love with the words in ways I never imagined. Reading all of these authors, studying their historic context, and nerding out on critical analysis helped me find my own voice. However, I did not have the heart to leave the comfortable promise of a career in accounting, even if it was one I’d hate.
And then, I met my mentor, Dr. Prochilo. He taught literature courses, but specialized in the Classics. He taught in a way that ignited my love for literature. He was boisterous, kind, intelligent, and passionate. He was also my advisor and the pressure was on to choose a major. After taking four classes with him, we'd grown close. I’d avoid his office hours because I knew he would remind me it was time to choose. But, he was persistent. He sat me down, smiled, and said, “You know what you want to do. You know what you need to do. You’re wasting your time and your talent sitting in those business classes. That feeling you get when we talk about words, that’s passion. Life is too short to let this pass. Follow your heart, it will all work out. I know you. You’ll make sure of it.”
And, just like that, I formally became an English major. Dr. Prochilo didn’t tell me anything I wasn’t telling myself but sometimes, you need to be reminded, reassured, and reconnected with yourself. He changed my life by believing in me.
I kept in touch with him, sending letters back and forth but then he retired and we lost touch. I lived across the country but had a dream about him one night. I then looked him up and found out he had passed away the week before.
In the next year, I relocated back to my college area. I married, had children, carved out a nice life for myself until my world was upended by my brother’s suicide. On a Sunday morning shortly after he died, I walked to a local Unitarian church. I’ve never been a church person but I was desperate for something at this time. I entered the church, took a seat in the back, and found out it was Remembrance Day. Parishioners made their way up to the microphone and told of lost loved ones, sometimes laughing, other times crying. I sat, listening, embraced in the shared sorrow of strangers. A woman about my age came to the mic and in a shaky voice told of her father, a long time professor at my alma mater. She talked of how much he loved his students, his career, and was passionate about inspiring others to follow their passions. I knew before she even said his name, that this was my professor’s daughter. There was no stopping the tears as I watched her walk back to the pew. I knew something magical, some universal mystery I could not explain just happened. The service ended and I nervously approached her. I explained how crazy this sounded but I was one of her father’s students and he was a huge influence in my life. She cried, I cried, and we hugged. No one can convince me otherwise that Dr. Prochilo had his arms wrapped around both of us in that moment. In the flurry of excitement, we did not exchange contact information and I thought I’d never see her again.
However, the universe had other plans. A year later, I was at a friend’s party and she walked in. “It’s Cinderella!” she yelled as she ran towards me. This was my nickname as she has been asking everyone if they knew me for the past 12 months, referring to me as Cinderella. We spent the night chatting, found out we lived four streets away from each other and our children went to the same school. She was just as kind, intelligent, and warm as her father.
This all seems unbelievable. I know. But, these are actually not the "Big Magic" moments for me. That moment came shortly after, when I was a Poet in Residence at our local elementary school. My first day there, I walked into a classroom and there sat Dr. Prochilo’s granddaughter, eager and ready to write poetry. In her smile, I saw a glimpse of the man who changed my life, inspired me, and I was so grateful for that small glimpse of him in that moment. The end of my residency culminated in an Open Mic for the students and being on that stage with that little girl, reading her poetry, made me believe in Big Magic. I blinked ferociously to keep the tears inside because I knew in that moment, Dr. Prochilo was right. I followed my heart. I leaned into my passions. I landed right where I was supposed to. In the end, everything did indeed work out.