Intervento Divino?

It was on November 10th, 1984, in Tuscany, when I had one of those experiences which always lead me to believe that there is much more to our perception of the world than we ever fully understand. I was heading south towards Volterra. I was very short of money because a breakdown the day before had meant I had missed the banks and, back then, I had to rely on traveller’s cheques. The ubiquitous ATMs and cashpoint cards were yet to be invented, and I had no food on board. I started the day with L1200 (about 50p).

The climbs were steep and twisty and it was so hot I could almost hear the grass sizzling. The panoramic views over Tuscany were fabulous and the shade of olive groves enticing. I very much wanted to stop and rest, but all the while there was a ridiculous conversation running around in my head.

‘Don’t stop now or you’ll be late.’

‘Late for what? I have no schedule, and I need a rest.’

‘Don’t stop now or you’ll be late.’

‘Look, this is silly. There is no timetable, no appointment; I am free to do as I please. I want a cup of tea, so I’m going to stop and have a cup of tea.’

‘Don’t stop now or you’ll be late.’

Stubbornly ignoring my intuition, because I couldn’t rationalise it, I pulled off the road to make some tea and take in the view. Things did not go well. Despite my brewing ritual being well practiced by this stage, I managed to knock over my stove, burned my fingers reflexively trying to catch it and only narrowly avoided scalding my foot. Still determined to ignore my intuition in the absence of any empirical evidence of impending lateness, I started again. But I found myself becoming increasing ill at ease and grumpy for no apparent reason. The argument in my head still raged. The longer it went on, the more powerful the urge to ride on became. Intuition prevailed. I gave up the quest for refreshment, packed up and pedalled on.

About half an hour later I had burned off my grumpiness by pedalling hard up the hills and I reached the walls of Volterra in a sweat. The streets were made out of stone blocks laid in a herringbone pattern, and much too steep and bumpy for comfortable cycling, so I walked and pushed towards the central town square.

As I arrived in the square, I found it was market day. The market was just closing and the farmers were in the process of dismantling their stalls. The ground was littered with discarded fruit and vegetables. I walked around the square and gathered up a carrier bag-full of bruised apples, some sweet little pears and an enormous orange, all of which were going to be thrown away. A free lunch!

As I sat on a wall munching free food, I watched the council workmen clean the square. A small street sweeping machine maneuvered around with its rotary brushes and vacuum pump sucking up all before it and gobbling it into its waste-bin. Within 20 minutes the square was swept clean and hosed down, the cobbles gleaming in the sun.

It dawned on me that if I had arrived half an hour later there would have been nothing left to scavenge; no free fruit, no nothing. As the carved image of a long-dead Pope  gazed into the middle-distance from his niche in the wall I pondered: was there really a God looking down on me and sending me messages to help me out? Or did I already know, somewhere deep in my unconscious, that it was market day and, if I stopped for tea, I would be late?

And what a powerful process it is to attribute a cause to such an effect. Religious conversions have probably occurred as a result of this kind of thing. Perhaps, in other centuries, of if I had had a different upbringing, I might have said that God spoke to me and guided me. I might even have said that I was hearing voices.

I have  dear old friend who claims she receives information “coming through” (from the other side) and that her ideas and actions are “sent” to her from an external, invisible source. She feels it gives her ideas a great deal of authority – divine authority. I also have a sister who holds conversations with people who have died and assure her that they are “fine now,” and I had a grandfather who worked with a medium to bring messages from dead servicemen to their surviving comrades as part of a treatment for what we now call post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s a curious business how, and to what, we ascribe the roots of our thoughts. Me? I’m always up for a cup of tea.

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