Mark of God

Many years ago my husband and I visited Bern, the charming capitol of Switzerland. One evening, we had a night free of planned activities.

Feeling liberated from itineraries, we wandered through the Medieval streets into the heart of Bern. The warm evening breeze had lured swarms of people into the town's square. Old men played checkers at cement tables amid musicians, jugglers and other assorted street performers. Frank and I paused to drink in the carnival of sights and sounds.

An American accent rang out above the bustle. I grabbed Frank's hand and pulled him toward the sound of home.

"One' Two' Three!" A burst of laughter erupted from the crowd around a juggler. I moved in closer, drawn in by his act and familiar accent.

After a finale of quick-handed magic tricks, appreciative onlookers threw coins and moved on.

As the juggler bent down to collect the loose change, I felt compelled to connect.

"Excuse me. Uh, I liked your act."

The Juggler looked up with a surprised expression, as if he didn't expect anyone to stay around.

"Hey, thanks! You sound like an American."

I laughed, admitting that I'd been drawn to speak with him, maybe because of his Yankee accent too. As travelers tend to do, I politely asked him what part of the States he was from.

"California." The Juggler replied. "And you guys?"

I responded in the same general way. "Pennsylvania. Outside Philadelphia."

The juggler stopped picking up coins. "Oh! Where outside Philadelphia?"

I was slightly taken aback. Why did the name of the town Matterif he was from California? Feeling silly, but strangely compelled to talk, I answered. "Havertown."

The Juggler's jaw dropped and his bearded face softened. He spoke barely above a whisper. "I went to Haverford High School."

Now Frank caught the compulsion to talk.

"But I thought you said you were from California?"

The Juggler got up off his knees and sat on the edge of a concrete flower container. He drew in a breath and poured out a story he'd long locked away.

"I discovered I loved to perform while I was in high school. I wanted to study the Arts in college but my stepfather felt I should study a serious subject -- like dentistry or something. I felt I had no choice, so I went to college in California, but I couldn't study what I didn't love.

Rather than go home and face my stepfather, I left the States to travel around Europe. I haven't seen my mother in 7 years."

After further discussion, Frank and I learned that his mother lived three minutes from our house. In fact, I drove past her home every day on the way to work. We stood in awe of the "coincidence" of our meeting.

The Juggler broke the silence. "If I give you my mother's number, would you call her for me when you get back home? Would you tell her I'm okay?"

As a mother of two, I ached for this woman who was separated from her son. I nodded a tearful yes.

I tucked the number away and the three of us parted, forever changed by a chance meeting thousands of miles from home.

On the plane ride back to the States, I worried out loud to Frank. "What if his mother is angry? What if she doesn't want to hear from me?"

Frank squeezed my hand and said, "You already know the right thing to do."

Once back in Havertown, I picked up the phone and put it back in the cradle countless times. But, I couldn't ignore the strong inner voice that urged me to call. After taking a deep breath, I dialed the number on the crumpled piece of paper. A woman answered the phone. I spoke quickly -- before I lost my nerve.

"Hello. You don't know me but..." The story of our trip to Bern spilled out, rapidly reaching the part where we met the Juggler in the town square. As I relayed her son's greeting, the woman cried. "Oh, Thank God!"

In a voice thick with emotion, her questions tumbled out one after another. "How did he look? Was he well? Is he okay?"

I found myself in the peculiar position of describing a son to his mother. I assured her that he was healthy, making a nice living and seemed to be doing fine. I described the Juggler's hair, his beard and his request that I make contact with her.

The Juggler's mom spoke between sobs. "My son sent me a letter last year saying he was thinking of coming home. He said the next time I heard from him would be a sign that he'd be home soon. Thank you! Thank you so much for calling!"

After I hung up the phone, I wondered about the odds of meeting the Juggler at just the right place, at just the right time and at just the right moment in his life. I smiled through tears of my own and knew that chance had nothing to do with it.

Signs, coincidences, accidental meetings, inner voices -- all the mark of God at work.

Author unknown. If anyone has a proprietary interest in this story please authenticate and I will be happy to credit, or remove, as the circumstances dictate.

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