Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jung in Boston

Let me state I am generally skeptical of paranormal anecdotes and research. I am trained in the proper use of statistics, and have used statistical testing and modeling in my professional career. I am aware that the most amazing coincidences are to be expected in large populations: no supernatural explanations are required. I have seen more than a few strange coincidences in my own life, none of which bothers me much, but the following experience continues to make me wonder.

I was staying in a hotel in Boston on business. It was my first visit to Boston, and I had been looking forward to doing some sight seeing. One thing I particularly wanted to see was the Old North Church. As a child, "Paul Revere's Ride" was one of my favorite poems. I had been captivated by Longfellow’s imagery of the church at night:

“A moment only he feels the spell,
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread,
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;”

I talked about the possibility with friends until they were tired of hearing about it. Unfortunately, I did not have as much free time as I had hoped, and I had to cancel my plans for sight seeing.

I had a meeting scheduled with a business associate who lived in Cambridge. We had been planning on meeting for dinner at his house, but it was Halloween night and his wife and children were busy with "trick-or-treat," so he drove into Boston instead. He suggested a North Boston restaurant, and after dinner we decided to walk to a bistro on the next block for coffee and desert. Along the way, we came to a street corner where local youths -- dressed in black and with faces painted white -- were throwing eggs at passing cars (apparently a local Halloween tradition). Afraid that pedestrians might also prove tempting targets, we decided to backtrack and detour.

We made our way to a courtyard that seemed like it might be a shortcut through the middle of the block. It was a warm night for late October and there was a light fog in the air. We walked past a college-age couple who sat on a bench in the courtyard studying. The place had an other-worldly, "stage set" feeling, like a film-noir street scene. At the end of the courtyard was a short flight of steps that ended in an iron rail fence with an alleyway to each side. When we reached the top of the steps, I noticed a plaque on the fence. It was an historical marker that began: "The Old North Church…"

I had somehow, through a series of coincidences, and in a bizarre setting, obtained the object of my quest without trying. And not only that, but as in the poem: at a secret hour and seemingly under a spell. It's difficult to express, but the experience had a numinous, scripted feeling -- as if I were a character in a book or movie. It's this feeling of the whole thing being "set up," I think, that haunts me even more than the event itself.

To commemorate the experience, I bought an "Old North Church" souvenir coffee cup at the airport. It has yet to do anything strange.


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