27: Lessons in Faith

27: Lessons in Faith

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Dreams and the Unexplainable

Lessons in Faith

When you open your mind to the impossible, sometimes you find the truth.

~From the television show Fringe

I can pinpoint the day I decided that we are not alone, that some greater force exists, something that influences what we call fate and our experience in this world. On that day, the ubiquitous heat of steamy Lagos, Nigeria, was laced with the rank smell of open sewer. It assaulted my nostrils as I stood on the roadside wondering about what manner of destiny had brought me to such a dangerous place.

It was not uncommon to be robbed on the streets of Lagos in broad daylight, and people had informed us that the police often turned a blind eye to the mayhem to receive their cut from the thieves. In the outlying areas, we heard ominous stories of roving brigands robbing and even killing people. As a green, young expatriate businessman in Nigeria, I was always conscious of two things: the lack of personal safety and the absence of the kind of law that Americans take for granted.

Nigeria was in the midst of its first oil boom in the 1970s. The country was inundated with fiercely competing foreign businessmen like me. It was also overwhelmed by poverty. The oil wealth, much of which was siphoned off by corruption at the top, stood in stark contrast to the subsistence living of much of the population. I don’t know how it is in Nigeria today, but back then the wealth imbalance was like waving red meat in front of a starving dog. Many people naturally resorted to a life of corruption and lawlessness borne of the desperation that permeated every level of society.

My father and I were on a grimy street that day trying to get out of the city. We had an important meeting to attend far in the north, but we had a problem. It was one of those days when the commercial airplanes in Nigeria did not fly for one reason or another. We hailed a private transport, a vehicle that was like an unofficial taxi for hire for long hauls. We intended to board it for the eight-hour drive to our destination.

I climbed in the car first so my father wouldn’t have to crawl over the back seat to make room for me. With one foot in the door, I froze. A cold wave of fear washed over me for no apparent reason, but this feeling told me something very wrong lurked on the horizon. I turned and told my father we could not get in. We argued for a few minutes until he finally relented.

Now let me sidebar here. In those days, I lived for long stretches of time isolated from normal social interactions in a foreign land. I was skinny as a rail, my diet consisting of pineapple, papaya, and coconut to avoid the many diseases that plagued foreigners. The combination of a restrictive diet and long periods of time in meditative isolation had made me prone to frequent visions. On occasion, local “bush doctors” — wise men or psychics — would sense something about me and approach me unsolicited. In short, I was frequently dwelling in another consciousness, and apparently that attracted people with perception.

My father had seen me diagnose people’s illnesses with no information to go upon. He had even periodically relied on me to make counterintuitive business decisions. So, after some words with my dad, and despite his anxiety to make the meeting, he caved because he had enough experience to realize that I wasn’t crazy. Well, at least not most of the time. We didn’t try another vehicle because my bad feeling extended to any trip on the road that day.

As we made our way back to our dreary hotel along the dusty, pungent, congested streets, I’m sure my father was questioning his own judgment as much as mine. Missing meetings is not good business protocol in any country.

We learned about a week later — news traveled slowly back then — that the same transport had picked up other Europeans that day, and brigands had attacked them on the road. They killed a passenger. From that time on, my father, a fairly logical man, came to appreciate the possibility of unseen things.

Despite the daily insecurity of my three years in Africa, I loved the Nigerian people. They were natural entrepreneurs and some of the brightest people I’ve ever met. I was always devastated by the thought that the system they were born into so often killed their potential. I came to appreciate that whatever criticisms people levy against America, and no matter how low we may start out in life, no American is ever so weighted down by the corruption and inequality that I saw in Africa.

I often wondered about the fate that brought me to Nigeria. I had a number of close calls there, and so much of my life back then seemed futile and frustrating, even hellish. I look back on this event and others like it, and I realize there was a purpose in it for me: It was how I came to the conclusion that we are not alone.

A guiding hand preserved me, of that I’m quite certain, but only years later did I realize something had led me safely in and out of Africa with a greater purpose. I used my experiences there to write the critically acclaimed Pope Annalisa, a book that has inspired many people. So, yes, I do believe in dreams and premonitions. More importantly, I was fortunate to touch the world from whence they arise, and for that I feel eternally blessed.

I’m no different from anyone reading these words. The same force that protected me can protect you. It’s like a 24/7 radio broadcast, but life throws a lot of noise at us, so be patient. If you work at tuning that dial with a little desire, contemplation, belief, and expectation, the message will cut through the static. Please try it. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose. It will work in ways you may not even notice at first, but it will slowly take hold and alter the course of your life as it did mine. And the most wonderful thing of all? Perhaps it will allow you to help others too.

~Peter Canova

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