I have written several pieces over the years which describe coincidences which may not really be coincidences. Those pieces usually are focused on issues relating to the “afterlife” and my evolving conviction that some unusual events can in fact be viewed a window into contact with those who have died.
But, some coincidences are just coincidences.
The other day, I received an email from a good friend telling me about a podcast he had discovered called The Twilight Zone Podcast. He knew of my interest in the classic TV series because, years ago, I had replied to his Facebook posting in which he referred somewhat subtly to the Twilight Zone episode: “A Stop at Willoughby”, one of my favorites.
The coincidence here was that just last Shabbat in speaking from the bima about my trip to the border in Texas, I had ad-libbed a reference to the Twilight Zone. I mentioned that the most stressful part of the trip for me was that the airline had cancelled my return flight because they claimed I hadn’t taken the second leg of the incoming flight to El Paso and, as a result, my return reservation was cancelled automatically.
The fact that I was standing in El Paso talking to the ticket agent and that my luggage still had the bar code which showed I had picked it up in El Paso didn’t seem to convince him. He steadfastly claimed I was not on the flight. I knew that I was but couldn’t convince him.
I mentioned to the congregation that it was at that moment that I thought Rod Serling was going to come out from behind the counter and, in that haunting voice, start the introduction to this week’s episode: Picture a man who knows where he was…”
The congregation responded with the laughter I had hoped for before we got to the more serious matters at hand and by the way, the airline eventually agreed that in fact I was on the flight.
My friend hadn’t heard my sermon and the posted text does not include the reference to the show. Still, it was after all, just a coincidence that he would write to me two days later about the Twilight Zone.
But, his email brought me to the Podcast which is fascinating and gave me a new idea for what to watch on TV while I exercise in the early morning. I have the entire series on DVD so, this morning I started at Season 1 Episode 1 entitled “Where Is Everybody” and plan to watch them all in order.
The Twilight Zone is a masterpiece and I know I speak for many fans when I say that I can quote lines over and over again from my favorite episodes and truly am amazed at how they have remained so clear over the years.
The episode that my friend referred to: “A Stop at Willoughby” is one of my favorites and I actually did have a reference to it in the early drafts of my book: “The Long Way Around”, a reference which I decided to omit in the final draft.
In a description of a trip I had taken through the South many years ago when our kids were very young and life was extremely hectic, I wrote of my drive through the small town of Belcher, Louisiana early on a December morning. The town was beautiful in the early light: a woman walked her dog through the leaf filled streets and a little girl waved to me sweetly as she waited for the school bus.
I was so taken by the surrealistic quiet of the town, a throwback it seemed to an earlier, more relaxed time that I was tempted to park the car and stay there a while longer. Then, I remembered “A Stop at Willoughby” and just kept driving.
As they say in Hebrew hamayveen yaveen, those who understand will understand. I will not post any spoilers in this piece. If you haven’t seen the episode, you can find it online and then you will understand as well.
One Twilight Zone episode did find its way into the final draft of the book, the episode called: To Serve Man. Again, I will offer no spoilers (although I did spoil it in the book), but I have always seen that episode as a anti-religious polemic which, while I disagree with the premise, is absolutely fascinating in its attempt to discourage us from trusting mysterious books brought from the sky.
Last night, I listened to the host of the podcast talk about another of my favorite episodes: Five Characters in Search of an Exit. It is an absolutely engrossing story which ends, as the host discussed, with an appropriately mysterious ending. We understand who the people in the story are. But, so much is left unexplained, open to our imagination and our thought.
Just as an aside, there is an old episode of the children’s show Arthur, which actually featured a slyly written tribute to this classic episode. I remember watching that Arthur episode for the first time with our kids when they were young and screaming with delight when I saw the scene. I scared the daylights out of both of them and the dog as well. Such is the power of good TV.
And there are so many others that I will never forget including the one that really terrified me the first time I saw it as a young boy: “Twenty-Two”. (I swear there is a subtle reference to “Twenty-Two” in an episode of another favorite: “Fawlty Towers” but I can’t prove it.)
For me, the magic of the Twilight Zone is that many of the episodes leave us with deep, unanswered questions at the same time as it opens up to us the possibilities in our existence that we might never consider or take seriously.
I am beginning to make some progress on an idea for a second book which I won’t discuss in detail now but part of the book would involve a wonderful commentary on the siddur by the 13thcentury commentator, the Ramban, Nachamanides.
Nachmanides comments on the verse from Psalms which we say before beginning the silent amida: “God, open my lips and my mouth shall speak your praise”. He notes that the word for “lips”, sfatai comes from the same root as the word for the bank of a river.He says, in essence, that we should ask God to help us go beyond the finite boundaries that we have accepted and be willing to explore new possibilities.
This is what the Twilight Zone did and continues to do. It is an inspiring work that encourages us to open our minds to ideas we might dare not consider.
I’ll keep you informed of my progress as I begin a daily watching of this fantastic show. And, if you have a favorite episode, I encourage you to let me and everyone else know by replying to this posting.
It was, after all, only a coincidence… Right?