In September of 1996, I was nearing the end of a solo vacation to the Pacific Northwest. I’d long wanted to leave Atlanta, where I’d spent the past 24 years. I needed a change. I’d traveled throughout the South and the East Coast, and, while many places interested me, none truly had called to me. In February of 1996, though, I’d visited Kaua’i, and that had called to me. So, too, was the Pacific Northwest calling to me. But the rain: like most people, I found rain depressing. Would moving to the PNW be a mistake?
On my next-to-last day, I took the ferry from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria, British Columbia, a charming city that some say is more British than Great Britain. I walked along the waterfront, visited the Empress Hotel (famed for its high tea), and took a tour bus to beautiful Butchart Gardens, which I’d first seen and been enchanted by in the 1986 movie The Boy Who Could Fly. In 1986, from the vantage point of Atlanta, it had seemed impossibly far away, and I wondered whether I’d ever see it in person.
I returned to town in time to catch the last ferry of the evening back to Port Angeles. As I stood on deck, waiting for us to sail, I overheard some people talking about a total lunar eclipse. “An eclipse?” I asked. “When and where?”
“It’s supposed to start about now,” they told me. “Right here.”
As a lifelong astronomy buff, I was surprised I hadn’t heard about it. The sky was crystal clear—perfect viewing conditions. The moon was nowhere to be found, though. A few minutes later, the ferry left the dock. As we got farther out into the harbor, the platinum disk of the full moon appeared from behind the Empress Hotel.
The duration of the eclipse, from start to finish, was 90 minutes. The duration of the ferry ride was 90 minutes. The sky soon darkened. Once we got out into the Straits of Juan de Fuca, the wind was bitterly cold, but I, along with a handful of other die-hard passengers, stayed on the upper deck for the entire crossing.
And then the magic moment came: total eclipse. On the western horizon, I could see the last glow of sunset where the Straits met the Pacific Ocean. Overhead shone the millions of twinkling stars that formed the Milky Way galaxy, undimmed by haze or light pollution. To the east hung the moon, completely engulfed in the earth’s shadow—the platinum disk now transformed into a dark copper penny.
“This is a sign,” I thought to myself. “I need to find a way to move here.” I reasoned that, if the rain got to me, I could always move south to California or back to Georgia. As we left the ferry and the captain nodded goodbye to each of us, I said to him, “You put on this show every night, don’t you?”
I believe that, sometimes, signs are placed before us. We can choose to act on them, or we can choose to ignore them. As my friend Jerry likes to say, “God will meet you more than halfway, but you have to take the first steps.”
Would I have moved to the PNW had it not been for the eclipse? Probably. But given the improbability of witnessing a total lunar eclipse that I hadn’t known about beforehand, one that exactly coincided with the duration of the ferry ride, under perfect viewing conditions… well, I took it as a final divine kick in the butt that I needed to trust my instincts, overcome my fears, and take a chance on a new life in this green, rainy, spectacular part of the country that was calling to me. Over the course of the next year, all the pieces necessary to make it happen fell into place.
What about you? Have you ever made a major life change—one that worked out in for the best ways that you couldn’t have foreseen—based on what you interpreted as signs?
Featured image at top: Adaptation of “Catching Light,” by European Southern Observatory, composited with adaptation of “Full Moon 2010,” by Gregory H. Revera (both images from Wikimedia Commons)