The Miracle Pen
A short story based on actual events.

Christina was not superstitious. She did have her rituals and routines. Like a lucky copper shamrock that she wore loosely around her neck, as jewelry, not as a mystical magical talisman. Her morning coffee with oat milk was prepared the same way each morning and placed on her desk in the exact same place. She also had her lucky pen. A Fisher Space Pen. An urban legend is that NASA spent a large amount of money to develop a pen that would write in space, while the Russians just used pencils. Actually, the Space Pen was developed using private capital, not government funding. Due to issues with broken pencil points, graphite dust, and less clear documentation, NASA and the Russians both use the Space Pen.

Chris didn’t mention or flaunt her lack of spiritual talismans and symbols at work. She had worked her way up to a supervisory role, the first woman to rank as an executive in her male-dominated company, Aerospace R&D. She preferred the name Chris since it could be more gender neutral. Being a female meant she had to carefully consider each decision, each word in each email, and each meeting agenda. And each outfit, hairstyle, and pair of shoes. No man in her company had to be so concerned about such mundane thoughts. And certainly not Pat. He was at the same lateral level as Chris, but it took him longer to achieve that, even with no glass ceiling or cultural expectations in his way. He held some resentment for Chris. Why her? What has she got? Sex appeal, better legs?

Patrick lived a privileged childhood. He went to private school, summer camp, and the family took vacations, even once to Europe. He still conveys bouts of racism and sexism. A business major at a good university, he was a fraternity man. Hard partier, arrogant. self-centered. That type of guy used to have an advantage on the job, any white-collar job, because so many people felt that was the common image for a successful businessman. His two children by his first wife were out of the house and starting their careers. His current wife had children of her own. They, too, are working adults. On the job, Pat didn’t show much initiative or enthusiasm. He was somewhat lazy. He did just enough to keep the bosses happy and the paychecks coming. But, he was competent and he did complete his work projects on time.

When it was announced that someone from Chris and Pat’s team would be joining the Vice President at the annual Aerospace Procurement Conference, each hoped it would be them that was selected. Pat was a good buddy with William, the VP. They belonged to the same country club, their kids graduated from the same school, and their wives went shopping together. He was a shoo-in.

The company was founded by three men who worked together at TWA airline. Sitting with their drinks at Greg’s Pub one evening, they complained about the inefficient ways the airline bought supplies and materials. There had to be a better way.
“Why don’t we find that better way and contract to, not just TWA, but also to other airlines.”
“The sky’s the limit.”
That elicited some forced chuckles. The plan was to stay in their current positions and gather information, network contacts, save money and continue to meet to map out the route to Aerospace R&D. This was at a time when aerospace was a relatively new word and conveyed the future and appeal of air travel.

Their attitudes of white male supremacy surfaced in the early operations of the company. It wasn’t intentional. It was just their culture and so, it became their company’s culture. That is, until the Federal Aviation Administration, formerly the Civil Aeronautics Administration, stepped in with some concerns about fair hiring and promotion within the company.

Later that week, Chris was called to the office of the Vice President. There were two other senior staff people there. They stopped talking, paused, and welcomed Chris. After some polite but useless small talk, they all sat down at the small conference table in the office suite. The table was large enough that the three men left some room on either side of Chris, farthest away from the rather large executive desk. Chris felt a bit overwhelmed, but this was nothing new to her. At her second executive staff meeting, the boys cracked a few jokes about having to clean up some of their jokes and stories. Chris chuckled with them.
“Guys, I was in the service. You’ve got nothing on the stories from those guys.”
At that meeting, she even got their coffee for them. They never did request it of her - she volunteered. She was thinking that men are not quite capable of making and getting their own coffee. She decided against saying it out loud. Maybe later. She sorta liked serving the men with a smile and a slight snicker. Chris was quite confident in her abilities and the position she earned within the company.

She settled into her seat with a smile. Third on the agenda was the Conference. The Vice President provided some background on what to expect, what to prepare, and what they hoped to gain from the seminars, meetings and vendor expo. Chris was a little confused. She glanced around the room to confirm that Pat was not present. She began to realize it was she who was going to the conference, not Pat. She felt good.

On the flight to Las Vegas, Chris worked on some conference notes. She also mastered a sudoku and crossword puzzle. Chris was always conscious about where she stored her pen - her favorite pen. Sometimes she put it in her bag, sometimes in the seat back pocket, or on the wide First Class armrest. But, this flight, as they prepared to land, she could not find the pen. She thought she had put it into a zippered compartment in the outside of her carry-on bag. While waiting on the other passengers to head up the aisle, Chris searched frantically all through that bag pocket. It had some folds where things had gotten lost before. She checked all of those. No luck. Checked the seat pocket, the floor. No pen. Nowhere. Even the carpeted floor was not safe from her scrutiny. Here was a corporate executive on her hands and knees feeling under the seats in her row. Maybe it had rolled forward or backward to another row. She bent down even further and glanced around in all directions. No pen. Oh well, she had lost one of her favorite pens before, a few years ago when she was in training. Because of that incident, she had bought several backups but neglected to pack a second pen in her luggage on this trip. She let it go, and moved on up the now-empty aisle out of the plane.

The routines of the airport corridors, baggage carousel, and rideshare pickup all went smoothly. The rideshare was a silent and quick trip; she checked in and went to her room. Disappointed that her lucky pen was gone, she dumped out the contents of both her purse and her briefcase onto the bed. One last search; maybe this time. Nope, still, no pen.

The conference was not too special - some too-long seminars and presentations, and samples from vendors. The conference did give time for Chris to share her poise and intellect with the VP and the others from their company. The next day, while Chris was at one of the more interesting presentations, two people were seated at the table behind her. They were in a conversation that, for them, was apparently more interesting than the woman standing at the front of the conference room. Their talk was distracting, rude, and inconsiderate. Chris wanted to glare at them, hush them, or and ask them to keep it down. This internal standoff went on for a few minutes. Chris was now distracted, but she realized that she wanted to control those around her just to suit her. Yikes. How disgusting. Instead, Chris thought more deeply and realized her life (and theirs) would be better if she just accepted what was happening in the moment, adapted to the new environment, and turned her attention back to the conference speaker. Those previously annoying voices now just became part of the environment, like air conditioning noise, coughs, rustling of papers, and scooting of chairs. That made so much more sense. She felt so much better. Why, she wondered, was she conditioned to try to control so much around her? Seeking some control is normal and healthy for survival. Seeking to change threatening situations or those that impair good things from happening is probably good. But there's a limit. Sometimes it makes the most sense to just accept, adapt, and move on.

On Sunday, the final day of the conference, Chris took her carry-on bag with her laptop inside. She accessed the bag several times throughout the day. About 2:00p, after the last speaker finished, she opened the bag pocket and there was the lost pen - sitting right in the middle of the pocket, where she thought she had put it on Friday. Chris was amazed. For a moment, she believed it was a miracle. Then, she accepted that God is not likely to play games with her and a pen. But, for just a moment, she considered the possibility that it was a miracle. This probably happens to many people - instead of searching for a rational explanation, they just go with ‘It must be a God thing'.

Seemingly normal people able to shed their childhood beliefs in the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus, are unable to do the same when it comes to their belief in God. Continued outward belief in any of those other childhood fantasies would be considered a sign of mental illness in adults. However, when the same magical thinking is used to maintain a belief in God, it becomes sacred and not open to discussion. When world political or religious views are not based on logic and reason, the resulting behaviors are likely to be neither logical nor reasonable.

Maybe the pen got stuck deep in a crevice and was dislodged when Chris carried the bag out of the room or set it down on the conference table.
But, Chris thought, maybe that wasn’t the reason?

© James Robert Watson    Email    Text

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