Strange Synchronicities

By a wonderful twist of fate I was friends with the great Southern writer William Gay and when he passed away his children asked me to compile and edit his papers. William had published three novels and three collections of short stories but when I got his papers I discovered that he had been writing continuously all his life and there were four unpublished novels and enough unpublished short stories for another collection. However they were all in handwritten notebooks and required a major effort to get them typed and ready for publication. A group of William’s friends worked with me to accomplish this and in the midst of this effort a fan of William’s from Wisconsin, Paul Nitsche, got in touch with me and offered to help. He was a huge help and we spend many evenings on the phone working over the typescripts.
One evening he mentioned that he was going to get married in September and that they were planning a trip to France for their honeymoon. He asked if I had ever heard of the painted caves in the south of France and said he was reading a book called Stepping Stones about the caves. I couldn’t believe my ears. Paul and I had never met but had become good friends on the phone. He said they were going to visit the caves as part of their honeymoon and would be there in mid September. When I told him that Susan and I were planning a trip to study the cave art and would be there at the same time we were both blown away. As the time got closer we figured out what days our trips would overlap and made plans for a get together. Susan did a lot of research on line and picked out a restaurant in Eyzies and we set a date to meet for dinner at six in the evening. We had wanted to have more time together but they were tied up planning their wedding and weren’t sure of exactly what they were doing when they arrived and it looked like it would only work out to meet for dinner.
The day of our meeting was the day we were to visit Font-de-Gaume. In order to visit the cave you had to show up early and stand in line. Only sixty tickets are available each day and if you don’t get there early you can lose out. However Susan had figured out a way to make reservations for tickets on line at the Ministry of Culture so we had our tickets waiting for us. The ticket booth opens at nine in the morning and we pull into the parking lot and see a long line of people waiting in a cue. It was obviously way more than sixty people. But we went right to the head of line and were there about ten minutes before opening. I was standing there at the door beside the ticket window and could overhear the conversations of the people in the line. The second person in line was talking in English and as I stood there I heard him say something about the winters in Wisconsin. I looked over at him and said, “Paul?”. He looked back and said, “Michael?”. So there we were, we embraced and couldn’t believe our luck. We were actually scheduled to be at this cave a few days before this but they had closed the cave due to some training the guides had to attend and we had found a sign telling us to come back on this day. So there we were. We got to spend a good part of the day together and had a great dinner that evening.
When we were planning our trip I knew that one of the most renowned of all contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teachers, a man named Dudjom Rinpoche, had founded a retreat center in the Vezere Valley. He had died in 1987 but I had actually gotten to see him once in New York City a year or so before he died and then spent many years studying with one of his closest students, Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche. I found the retreat center in one of the guidebooks and looked it up on line and was amazed to learn it was located about mid way between Montignac and Eyzies and we would be driving by it several times. We put it on the itinerary and was delighted to find it hidden in a small village back some narrow country roads from the river. It was a beautiful spot and we spent some time exploring and meditating.
The next day after our visit to the Buddhist center we were staying in Montignac and when we were sitting eating breakfast some people came and sat down across the room from us. One man stood out from the rest, he looked to be about five and a half feet tall and had dark skin and long black hair tied back in a ponytail and a sparse beard. I immediately sensed something special about him. He was joined at his table by a couple of younger men who looked to be Americans and then a woman whose dark skin and black hair matched his. I thought maybe he was Chinese or Mongolian but it was impossible to tell except he clearly stood out from the other tourists. We finished our meal and headed out for our day of adventures.
That evening about dark we made our way back to the hotel and walked along the river and found a restaurant with tables looking out over the river. The dark water slipped by, flocks of ducks worked their way along the concourse. We sat and enjoyed our meal and a glass of wine and as we were finishing in walks the exotic looking man from the hotel and the two Americans who had accompanied him. They sat down at the table right beside us. We had finished eating and when they finished ordering their meal I leaned over and started a conversation with one of the Americans. He quickly told me he was from San Francisco and was there to accompany his Tibetan teacher who was on the way to teach at a retreat in Germany and they had stopped here to visit Dudjom Rinpoche’s center. I told him that I was a student of Tibetan Buddhism and had been at Dudjom’s center the day before myself. He invited me to join them for a few minutes and introduced me to the dark skinned man I had seen at the hotel and said his name was Loppon Jigme Rinpoche. I couldn’t believe it, Rinpoche is a title given to teachers who are fully trained to provide students with initiations and empowerments and Loppon is scholarly title something like the head of a department at a college. I shook hands with the Rinpoche in total amazement. We started talking, he spoke great English, and I told him that I had studied for many years with Khenchen Palden Rinpoche and he said that he had also studied with him for many years in India. Suddenly we were bonded, we had the same root teacher. Khenchen had taught at the Nyingma Insitute in Sarnath, India and was the head of the Buddhist Studies Department there before he came to America. Jigme Rinpoche had been a student there as a young monk and had been guided for much of his education by Khenchen. We shared stories about him and then shared our experiences with Dudjom Rinpoche both our personal experiences studying with him and then visiting at the retreat center and how Susan and I had been there yesterday and he was there today. When their food arrived I excused myself and we wandered back to the hotel in surprise and astonishment at finding such an unexpected and unusual connection in such an out of the way location.

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1 Response to Strange Synchronicities

  1. Lisa DuMond says:

    How is it possible in a world leapfrogging toward 7.4 billion even as I type this that you continue to run into people you wish to meet or plan to meet in these amazing and delightful coincidences? It seems, time and again, you return from every trip with more fascinating stories of the people you meet. Is it Fate or Kharma or just because the universe loves you? I do know one thing, it doesn’t happen to us average souls. (Well, I passed Jack Hues on the street in London one day and nodded, but he snubbed me. “Jack Hues?” Exactly.)


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