Mystical and Strange Experiences and Insights

A Mystical Encounter in Cambridge

On a good day, Cambridge, England is less than an hour’s drive from our home in Bedfordshire, and since it’s a great town to wander around in we visit there often. There’s the university with friends who are always good for a technical discussion, there’s great architecture, punting on the River Cam, a market place, Auntie’s Teashop, and the statue of Isaac Newton in the chapel at Trinity College.  And as if this wasn’t enough the universe threw in a mystical experience. 

King’s College Chapel seen from the Backs, looking across the River Cam


 On a cold, December day Uncle Des was to report to Addenbrooke’s Hospital for his weekly dialysis, and Pauline, Alison (Pauline’s sister), and I volunteered to give Auntie Clarice a break and deliver him to the hospital. Our plan was to park the car in the hospital parking lot and take a bus into town for the day while Des did his thing.

 Cambridge is one of those English towns where not only YOU don’t want to drive - the Cambridge folk don’t want you to drive either. They put huge “Park and Ride” lots on all four sides of the town and shuttle you in, and if you are smart, you take the hint. Parking at the hospital, which lies on the South edge of town, is actually easier than the Park and Ride.

 Since I have, on several occasions, met with professors in the colleges while visiting Cambridge, I became the subject of egghead teasing any time we headed for Cambridge, especially if it was billed as a pleasure trip.

 “What physics problem are you and your buddies attacking today?”

 My spontaneous reply was, “Oh, I think I’ll drop in on Stephen (Hawking) and fill him in on my latest ideas about black holes and the extent of the universe.”

Stephen Hawking


 Following one of Des’s shorts cuts, we lucked up and pulled into Addenbrooke’s ahead of schedule (2). We dropped off Des, parked the car, crossed the road to the bus stop, and within minutes were on Bus 39 headed for the center of Cambridge. We did the market place, the old town area between the colleges, and stopped in at Auntie’s for a light lunch. After lunch Pauline and Alison shopped, and I paid a brief visit to Trinity College, where I can never resist visiting the statue of Isaac Newton in the chapel and walking the paths where this master once walked. I can feel special energy in the courtyard where the man who created the very foundations of physics worked every day. His brilliance was so obvious at the time, the president of the college resigned so Newton could become president. Imagine something like that happening today.

Trinity College: statue of Isaac Newton in chapel (1755, sculptor Louis François Roubiliac


Standing and daydreaming in the courtyard of the college I fantasized introducing Isaac Newton to Stephen Hawking, who is arguably one of today’s best known physicists (also a Cambridge scientist), and to participate in a conversation that would follow. I imagined turning around and seeing them coming to greet me.

 On the way back to the hospital Pauline, continuing the tease, asked me if I had seen Stephen.

 “Yes, I met with him and Isaac together in the Trinity Courtyard……….in my day dreams”, I responded.

 Arriving back at Addenbrooke’s half an hour early gave us time for afternoon tea in the hospital. The layout of Addenbrooke’s tea shop places a few tables into a wide spacious hallway, and we chose one of those tables. Sitting at the table sipping tea and nibbling on cakes my mind drifted again to the imaginary meeting at Trinity College.

 And then it happened. I looked up from my cup of tea and was looking Stephen Hawking as straight in the face as possible as someone wheeled his wheel chair down the hall directly towards me, turning the corner just as they reached our table.

“Oh my God! It’s him!” I whispered. Pauline and Alison looked around and found themselves staring straight at him just as he rounded the corner. The coincidence was as bizarre as I could imagine, as though my thoughts had created the whole situation. The universe never ceases to mess with me like this. For a moment I considered chasing him down the hall to ask if I could introduce him to Professor Newton. I figured if Hawking showed up then Newton had to be next.

 The following day the Daily Telegraph reported that Hawking had driven his wheel chair into a wall, broken his foot, and had been treated at Addenbrooke’s.  Just another coincidence?  Yeah Right!

 (You guys up there running this program………I want you to know………I am on to you.)

(1)Stephen Hawking is a famous Cambridge cosmological quadriplegic physicist who has for many years been paralyzed by Lou Gehrig’s disease. He talks through computer synthesized voice that he operates by batting his eyes. He is often seen sitting, head tilted, in his motorized wheel chair in conferences and lectures.


(2) On the way home that day, since the time had reached rush hour, Des proposed another of his infamous short cuts (Des’ shortcuts, as often as not, would have us totally lost). “Let’s take short cut I know about,” he proposed. “It will be much nicer and probably quicker than the crowded motorway.”
 I could see by the look on Alison’s face that she was nervous about this, having commented earlier that we be prepared and hold out against all shortcut suggestions. Before anyone could reply, he insisted with even more vigor, and we all agreed. In fact, Pauline loves driving the back roads of England, and I could see she was delighted, in spite of the thought of being lost for an extra hour. 

This time Des got it right. His shortcut took us through the English countryside and several beautiful, snow covered villages. To our pleasant surprise one of the villages was Grantchester, home of the famous village church in Rupert Grant’s memorable poem, which offers the last line, "Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there still honey for tea?"

 That trip to Cambridge became even more memorable, since Des’ wonderful and successful short cut was also his last.  Des passed away a few days later.