December 2017

Line in the Sand: Signs. Are they coincidental?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

Opinion 1:Barry Kaufman
As the esteemed philosopher, the blonde lady from Ace of Base, once said, “I saw the sign, and it opened up my eyes. I saw the si-ee-i-ee-ign.” I agree with her on the principle that life is demanding, but I take issue with her co-philosopher, the brunette lady from Ace of Base, on her assertion that life is “without understanding.”

There are easy-to-understand signs all around us—like the signs at the Bluffton Parkway traffic circle that tell you exactly what you need to do to avoid plowing your vehicle into another vehicle. And just like those Bluffton Parkway signs, most people ignore them, barreling through the circle of life with oblivious apathy and then wonder how things got to be so chaotic around them.

(For the record, if you want to go right or straight, be in the right lane. If you want to go left or straight, be in the left lane. If you don’t enjoy causing traffic accidents, yield to both lanes of traffic. If you want to change lanes in the circle, pull over immediately, hand your keys to a grownup, then burn your driver’s license, because you’re an idiot).

But traffic signs are just one kind of sign you’re completely failing to understand. Take, for example, zodiacal signs. You may be laboring under the delusion that the timeless wisdom of the ancients is written in the stars, forever chronicling the wheel of destiny and whispering to us what fate holds for us that day. What you may not realize is that those stars don’t particularly care whether today is a day you project confidence, and that your daily horoscope is not, in fact, written by some soothsayer tucked away in a cave on a Tibetan mountain somewhere.

You know who writes those things? Me. And I’ve never said a sooth in my life.

I used to work for a newspaper that kept a giant text file on a server somewhere that had about a year’s worth of horoscopes in it. One day we ran out as deadline was approaching, and I didn’t really feel like finding out where we kept the rest of them, so I made them up on the fly. Sorry if any of you wound up projecting confidence that day for no reason.

But I’m not saying there aren’t signs out there. I’m just saying they’re written by a force far more powerful than my own laziness.

Several years ago, I left my beloved Lowcountry to go live on Long Island. I’ll wait for your derisive laughter and ridicule to die down before I continue.

Within a year, I knew I’d made a terrible mistake, but at first it wasn’t necessarily a sure thing that I’d be coming back. My wife and I had moved down here many years ago under the assumption that we’d live by the beach for a few years and then find our next adventure. We lived by the beach for a few years, and then it turned out our next adventure took us to the maternity ward. Rather than moving on as we’d planned, we stayed put and raised a family.

Fast forward to the day we decided to leave Long Island. Did we want to move back, to seek the shelter of familiar shores and return to the hometown we’d grown to embrace? Or did we want to seek out that next adventure we never quite got around to? The future was fairly wide open for us, so we started weighing our options.

It ultimately came down to coming back to the Lowcountry or moving to Cleveland. This time, I’ll cut off your derisive laughter, because Cleveland is awesome. There’s a great downtown scene, a ton of stuff to do and the schools are top-notch. On a scouting trip, my wife and I found ourselves enamored with the West Side Market, enjoying a get-together with an old friend from high school and getting a chance to spend time with our god kids.

It was a strong contender, for a time. Then we came home to the Lowcountry. And it was right around this time Cranford Hollow released their self-titled album. And it was then that I heard the track, “Hello Friend” for the first time, cruising around Bluffton in December—with all the windows down, which is something you can’t do in Cleveland.

As I listened to this song about “my shelter from the cold,” I was hearing something my heart had been telling me all along: This is my home. It was a sign. Fortunately, Cranford Hollow is better at writing songs than I am at writing horoscopes.

And, so, I heeded the sign and I returned. And I learned along the way to always keep my eyes and ears open for signs. Especially on the traffic circle.

Opinion 2: Courtney Hampson
If you spend your Sundays watching the Hallmark Channel’s Countdown to Christmas movies (guilty), you will swiftly be caught up in the notion that everything does happen for a reason. If your nickname is “Miss Christmas,” and you grew up on a Christmas tree farm, and you’re now responsible for finding the perfect Christmas tree for the city of Chicago, and you go to the small town of Claus, Wisconsin to find said tree, and you fall in love along the way…then of course you believe in signs and fate and all that other hoopla. It’s meant to be!

Right after I asked Barry if he believed in signs, I started seeing signs, of signs. Was that a sign?

I was driving home from a business trip to Charlotte, pondering a difficult question about someone I love, and I saw a billboard on I-77 that read, “If you are looking for a sign, this is it.” I’ve made that trip back and forth to Charlotte dozens of times in the last few years, but I have never seen that billboard before. It is like when you buy a new car and then you see that kind of car on the road everywhere. Are the signs all around but you only notice them when you want to?

Seven and a half years ago I wrote a similar column, in a different publication, in response to an e-mail my mother sent me that talked about some of the survivors of September 11 attacks. Those who, because something unplanned popped up that morning—he had to run his daughter to daycare; he was stuck in traffic due to an accident; it was her turn to pick up donuts—were late heading to work at the World Trade Center and, as a result, didn’t perish.

The e-mail went on to say how important the little things are and that in this instance, each of these “little things,” was a “blessing” that saved their lives. I had trouble with that, because it made me question what the other 3,000 people who lost their lives did wrong that day to not be “blessed.”

Whenever something bad happens, you hear people say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Well, yes, there is a cause and effect for everything. That cause, however, isn’t necessarily a higher power. If we sit around waiting for the higher power to send us a sign, what might we be missing?

There is a great little store in Telluride, Colorado called “Hook.” They have a fabulous (and snarky and fun) greeting card selection. A couple of weeks ago, they posted a picture on Instagram of a card that read, “Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is that you are stupid and make bad decisions.”

Yes. That!

Stuff happens because we do other things that make it happen. Barry doesn’t agree with me, and he’s not the only one. So, I went super-scientific and asked the person I know, who more than anyone else, believes that everything happens for a reason. And then I asked the person who knows him best (me) what she (I) thought.
It went like this.

He said: When you believe in God and believe he has a plan for everyone, even if it’s leaving this world way to soon, you believe. When I got the news that I had cancer, and then learned they caught it early and there was a way to save me, I asked, “Why?” And my answer was to refocus on God and seek a different path. At work, when something changes and I ask why is this happening this way, I assume there is a reason. I am on this shift now doing this job to avoid something tragic elsewhere.

She said: So, following that thinking, the last six weeks have been difficult (for both of us) for a reason… Do you try to figure out the reason? Or do you look at where we are today and say we had to go through that to make us better, and that is the reason?

He said: You don’t question the reason; you learn from it, accept the outcome and become a better and stronger person.

She said: Could this explain why it drives you crazy when I ask, “why” over and over again?
He said: Every. Time.

So, he and she are going to agree to disagree. Because I say we are in charge of our own destiny, and we have to believe that. If we don’t, we never act. We never move. We wait. We sit idle.

If we sit waiting for a sign to tell us we’re ready to do something, we’re missing everything.

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