Billboard with a blue arrow pointing to the right on it

We all receive signs. Some of us just don’t notice. People call them different things: signs from the universe or signs from God. Both terms work for me, but the writer inside wanted something more original, a phrase I could call my own. Over the last few years, I’ve started calling them “cosmic signposts.” For the most part, the signposts are subtle. But sometimes it’s akin to the cartoons where a character plants his foot on the steel tines of a rake, vaulting the handle up to smack his face. Except for me, instead of a rake handle, I get whacked in the face with a red neon signpost ringed with flashing bulbs.

A segment of the world’s population will swear the signs don’t exist, that we create meaning where there is none. That’s fine by me; they can believe whatever they’d like. Let them travel life using whatever tools—or lack thereof—they’d like. Not me. I’ll take all the cosmic help I can get.

It wasn’t always this way. I went through my early adult life without noticing them. I’m sure the signposts were there; I just wasn’t open to them. But all it takes is observation of the world around you, a focus on the present. Once you pay closer attention to everyday surroundings, it’s difficult not to see them. I’ve had a steady stream since a particular day when I was barraged by several cosmic signposts me in a row during an important decision in my life. So, what were these successive cosmic signposts? First a little backstory…

There was a period in my flight training where fear slapped me around, pummeled me into a dark place where I considered quitting, taking the safe way out. I couldn’t shake the image of a mangled airplane tail sticking out of the earth, a broken arrow twisted deep into the bull’s eye of a scorched hole.

I didn’t worry about myself as much as I did my family. As a father with young kids at home, I feared a stupid move as a novice pilot would leave them to grow up without me. It’s important to remember that student pilots fly many times by themselves before earning their wings. This particular student had an overactive imagination. Not good for long solo flights. I had visions of engine-outs, fast-moving thunderstorms, wings ripping off.

Had I learned to fly before having kids, I believe the fear wouldn’t have existed. I would have gained enough experience to feel confident in my abilities so once the kids did arrive, I’d be less worried about an accident. In fact, during my training I envied the young students at the airport, those eager-eyed twenty-somethings with no dependents. They’d climb into the cockpit with an air of invincibility, no different than teenagers bellying up to the dinner table for their favorite dish.

On the day the cosmic signposts came, I’d been giving strong consideration to dropping the dream of learning to fly. I’d let several months slide without scheduling lessons, mainly because of an incident with a new manager from Atlanta that our parent company had brought in. He was a grandfather and knew I had young boys with another on the way. Maybe he had some deep-rooted fears himself, but whatever the reason he said what he did, I know now it was his issue, not mine. He didn’t just plant seeds of doubt within me, he used a pitchfork to spike them deep into the jugular.

“Why do you want to learn to fly now?” he said, sitting behind his desk. “Boys need their dad. You won’t do them any good if you kill yourself in a plane.”

He’d struck my Achilles heel. His words made me feel selfish, convinced I was a horrible dad. The conversation shadowed me for months, nipping at the back of my brain. I knew I had to make a decision. Was I going to accept the risk and fly, or opt for safety and give up? It kept me up at nights.

After consecutive restless nights, lying in my bed, I couldn’t stand it any longer, couldn’t take the endless analysis, reviewing the decision from every angle. Of course I didn’t want my boys to grow up without me. But I also didn’t want them to believe it was okay to quit in the pursuit of dreams. I realized then, that some decisions aren’t meant for analysis. Some decisions must be made on faith. At that moment, I let go and sent a request into the universe, “If I’m meant to learn to fly, please give me a sign.”

I stared into the dark, straining to hear anything beyond the silence.

Nothing.

But the high-tension wires within me released. My body sank deep into the bed, drifting toward sleep as my spirit floated off somewhere to play in the realm of dreams. All I remember thinking before sleep was, “Maybe the sign will come tomorrow.”

I got four the next day.

The first happen when I dropped off a package downtown, before a trip to the gym. Vehicle snug next to a parking meter, I scooped a quarter from the change holder. At the meter, I reached to slip it in. As the slot devoured the glossy coin, I pinched its rim at the last second, then eased it back out. What I’d seen as it slid in the slot was the Wright Flyer, the world’s first airplane that’s minted on the back of the North Carolina quarter. The quarter, depicting the first flight—with Wilbur Wright watching in what must have been sheer exhilaration as his brother flew—was right-side-up, perfectly aligned as if I had pre-positioned it beforehand, as if to savor the famous scene.

My request flashed through my mind. Was this my sign? If so, it seemed weak, explained with ease as wishful thinking or the law of averages. But did I flick that quarter back into the slot, letting it plink into the belly of the meter? No. I dropped it in my pocket and grabbed a replacement from the car. Just in case.

Errand complete, I let my car guide me along the familiar route to the gym while I mulled the quarter and its significance. By the time I arrived at the facility, I doubted there had been a sign at all. Still, my mind wandered during the workout, eyes staring into space between sets as I weighed the quandary. Halfway through the workout a man appeared in front of me as I sat at the shoulder machine.

“You’re taking flying lessons at Air Harbor aren’t you?”

I recognized him as a pilot from the airport. We’d met many months prior when I’d started the lessons. I hadn’t seen him there since, and never at the gym.

“Yes, I am,” I replied. He asked me how the lessons were going. I told him they were going well, because the lessons weren’t the problem. It was controlling my fears that hadn’t gone so well. But I didn’t volunteer that information.

We made small talk about the airport and some people we both knew there. Before he left to finish his workout, he looked at me and said, “When you get your license, you will love it. Best thing I ever did. No greater feeling than flying yourself.”

I sat there, dazed as he walked away, knowing I’d received my sign. As I stared past the space he’d just vacated, I could see the archway to the group exercise room. The participants were faced outward, performing a choreographed move where they had turned toward me. The woman closest to me glanced my direction, enough to get my attention, then spun with the class to face the instructor. The back of her shirt read, “Don’t let fear stand in the way of your dreams.”

The woman then grapevined to the left, reveling a woman in front of her. That woman’s shirt read, “Living is the only thing worth dying for.”

Trust me; I couldn’t make this stuff up.

I realize shirts with clever, motivational sayings are ubiquitous, especially in gyms, but the perfect alignment, the rapid fire precision of how it unfolded… no one will ever convince me it was anything other than my request answered with an exclamation point by the universe. Perhaps I’d thrown down a challenge, had dared the cosmos to prove me wrong in my claim the coin scene was a weak sign?

Leaving the gym, I phoned my instructor to schedule our next lesson. Done deal. And I never looked back.

Since that day, with my awareness heightened, cosmic reminders appear constantly. I’ve started writing them down now so I can relive the experiences, feel their electric charges again when I need a jolt. It’s too easy to forget their magic, for their power and lessons to fade as if they’d never occurred. But even if their charm does seep away over time, I know more will appear. These days, instead of wondering if I’ll get one, I just wonder when it will happen and in what form.

And for those who wonder what happened to the North Carolina coin…it accompanied me, snug in my pocket, on every single flight I made until I earned my pilot’s certificate. After that, I returned it to the universe hoping it might hold magic for someone else.

What cosmic signposts have guided you? Do they appear regularly, or do you believe they’re an elusive myth, no more real than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? If you’ve never seen them, my guess is they’ve appeared, but you may rush through life so fast you miss them. Focus on the present; observe your surroundings. Open your mind and they will come. Or, the next time you have a difficult problem, ask the universe for a sign to guide you. Just be prepared to duck if necessary. Sometimes those cosmic signposts come at you with force. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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