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We had a great first circle last week, made up of friends, who told some great escape stories! And we now have a second circle date, November 27th, with a choice of story themes related to journeys. I’m hoping to get the hang of getting the word out through social media for the next event, so that we’ll have both familiar and new faces.

Speaking of journeys, ever since my beloved, funny, kooky aunt died a few years ago, I’ve wondered exactly where she went. I’d worked out my beliefs about what comes after death a long time ago, but until I lost someone that close, I hadn’t felt that burning “where do they go” question on a visceral level. Would I see her again? In another life? In a dream? Would she ever communicate with me again? (That’s her in the picture volunteering in the schools soon after her arrival in America.)

I asked those questions while standing in my London flat one night. I’d moved to London that same year and was still lonely for friends. I’d made a new Baha’i friend (a follower of a faith I’ve been interested in for some years, though I don’t call myself one). My new friend, Sarah, said she would put me in touch with some Baha’is close to where I live so I could attend some of their events, but weeks passed and she hadn’t followed up on that.

The very next day after I asked these questions about my aunt, Sarah called and said “there’s a Baha’i woman I think you’d really enjoy meeting.” So I contacted the woman and we set a date to meet for tea in my local high street. When I met Shahla a few days later, it was at the cafe on the upper floor of Marks and Spencer. She’s an Iranian woman who spoke non-stop, telling me how she came to London from Iran and became a nurse, about her life here, her activities, her friends, her brothers in America.

She was a small woman, sixty’ish, with short black Persian hair, a smiling kindly face, with an ever-present twinkle of humor in her eyes, and a strong accent. I sipped my tea and basked in her motherly manner and copious flow of advice. I don’t know what it was that enabled me for a moment to observe this meeting as if from a distance. A remarkable feeling descended on me as I looked into her face, her smile, heard her accent, and the content of her advice.

It was my Egyptian aunt, Nawal. This aunt was like a second mother to me. She died while I was in flight, on my way to see her at the hospital, so I didn’t get to say goodbye. And here she was having tea with me. Everything about Shahla was my Aunt Nawal. Shahla’s Iranian accent and Nawal’s Egyptian accent were very similar, so were their faces, but it was more what Shahla said to me.

My aunt and I, our thing, was to have tea and sit for ours at her home in Ohio, where I would mostly listen to her stories and her advice. I loved her so much that I didn’t care if I agreed with her advice or not, I could have listened to her all day, because her advice was the way in which she loved me. Listening to it was to receive her loving embrace, her humor, her faith in the goodness of the world.

I found myself crying and apologizing to Shahla, as I told her what I was feeling. It was as if she were the answer to my questions two days before. As if Aunt Nawal came back to tell me “yes, you’ll hear from again!” I found Shahla crying too and then she said “you’re coming over, dear, come to my place.” So I did, and when we got there, it was even more uncanny. Sitting in Shahla’s place was a flashback to Aunt Nawal’s and my tea tete-a-tetes. Down to the quirky things Shahla did that were so like my aunt, like preparing a plate for me, with five different nibbles on it, then telling me not to eat two of them, because those weren’t that good.

That afternoon I had to call my mother in Ohio, still crying, to tell her that I just saw her sister. She wasn’t surprised.

Story Idea: Have you ever run into someone who strongly reminded you of a long lost friend, someone far away, or even someone who’s passed away?