I have two special skills few people know about, but I’ll tell you. I’m a four-leaf clover-finding savant. Forget the SAT scores already. I can find four-leaf clovers just walking down the street, which is not a skill to be dismissed as luck.
Indeed, only one in 10,000 three-leaf clovers has four leaves, yet I can just be standing there waiting for the dog to figure out there is no way to drag a cat out from under a Volvo…no matter how much you want to “play” with it…and there it will be, a perfect four-leaf clover embedded in 10,000 regular ones.
Everything starts with looking.
On a trip to New Zealand, I was running along the sound in Dunedin, and I stopped to stretch near the train tracks that parallel the water for at least two miles. It was early winter there and early summer in the US, so the air was crisp, like fall—except Kiwis don’t say “fall”—they say “autumn.” It was also high noon, except that noon isn’t really “high” on the South Island as the sun only gets to about 70 percent of its zenith at that time of year.
But clover grows along the train tracks there just as it does here, and as I stood listening to Maroon Five’s Adam Levine sing about covering some girl’s body like a tattoo, I thought some thoughts…which led to what are the chances that I’ll ever meet Adam Levine? What are the chances that Adam Levine is here in New Zealand, too? Going for a run along the sound?
And to bolster that possibility, I thought, what are the chances that I can just look down and spot a four-leaf clover? Not likely. But it doesn’t matter how improbable something is…it only matters that you look.
So, I glanced down and thought just maybe I had spotted a four-leaf clover near my left shoe. I touched it, untangling it from the emerald leaves nearby, and it was an ordinary clover. But because I was looking, I saw that the one right next to it had four perfect leaves.
Back at home, I went for a run at Greenbury Point. It’s a long trail—about two miles, I had nothing with me except my keys. I ran the trail then walked through the long, paved parking lot back to the car. As I approached my VW, I realized I was no longer holding the key fob. No memory of dropping it. Panicked, there was no recourse but to run the trail again.
I started slowly, scanning the path and the weeds along the edge at a trot, and after the first mile, I began to get scared. There was no way to call home, and it was getting late. And anyone could have picked up my keys. Was my car even still in the lot? Now, I was a mile or more away. Had a creepy key-finder person driven to my house? Then, it occurred to me that I could ask for help.
I picked my way over the massive gray rocks to sit by the shimmering waves. I breathed in deeply a few times and said, “Thank you for this day, this body that can run, feel the sun on my face. Thank you for a life where I can lose keys because I’m outside soaking up the sweet breeze, the sound of church bells over the harbor. And thank you for showing me where the keys are.”
I didn’t think I’d had an answer—that’s how intuition works—silently, behind the scenes, and often unaccompanied by any feeling whatsoever. You must learn to act, trusting that you have engaged the autopilot by asking. So, I got up and started to run again—as if I knew where the keys were.
About another half mile down the path, I impulsively veered off into a break in the wild chicory and wheat grass. It was a place where you could stop and be grateful for the slate-blue bay and anchored tankers looking like toys, and although I hadn’t stopped there that day, there lay my keys as if they’d been carefully placed in the most obvious spot possible for me to find. Perhaps they had been left there by another runner. I don’t do forensic analyses of miracles. I smile and say thanks.
The other night, a meteor shower had been predicted in the local newspaper. It was a clear and moonless evening—a perfect night for stars to fall. This is my other skill, you see. I seem to be able to spot falling stars no matter how brief or how unpredictable, how much ambient light there is obscuring their beauty. But I’d been at a party, I was tired, and after a brief search standing in the yard in my robe, I gave up.
But as I got in bed, I started thinking about a relationship that is injured and for which I can’t see any hope. I mean, it would take a miracle—it would take a whole series of impossible things falling into place for this to be whole and right again. But nothing is impossible, and we tend to find what we expect to find.
So, I turned out the bedroom lights, pulled up the window shades, and climbed into bed. I lay there thinking about the person I love, looking out at the impossibly small section of night visible from the bed and not further obscured by the neighbor’s holly tree growing over the brick garden wall.
I was facing east; the constellation from which the meteors were to come was in the southwestern sky, but I thought…the only loss here would be to not be looking when something beautiful falls from heaven. To be looking down when you should be looking up. To have closed my eyes when they should be open to every possibility in this wild and wonderful world.
And a meteor that may have been traveling towards that precise moment for a billion years blazed across that open space of sky.
Laura J. Oliver is an award-winning developmental book editor and writing coach, who has taught writing at the University of Maryland and St. John’s College. She is the author of The Story Within (Penguin Random House). Co-creator of The Writing Intensive at St. John’s College, she is the recipient of a Maryland State Arts Council Individual Artist Award in Fiction, an Anne Arundel County Arts Council Literary Arts Award winner, a two-time Glimmer Train Short Fiction finalist, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her website can be found here.r