If you’re like me, you may feel a little bit like 2020 is a giant, six-headed squid monster who crept out of the murky deep, grabbed the world in its tentacles, stuck us in its mouth and proceeded to grind us up with its colossal molars, savoring us all like a tasty, melancholy snack. These are times that would test the toughest of legends, the most benevolent of crusaders, the most virtuous saints and bravest of squid-killers. There’s no use denying it: We’re going through a really rough patch.

But never fear, friends. There’s a story I’ve been saving for just this occasion; a story I’ve been waiting to tell. I keep this story in my quiver to lift me up when I’m impossibly sad, to help me make sense of the world when it's upside down. This is a story of serendipity, and the sweetest one I know.

We had saved the wine bottle from our honeymoon. Years later, when we hatched the plan to ditch our normal lives and go sailing for a few years, Trav and I, in the midst of our giddy dreaming and scheming, decided that the “honeymoon bottle” was the one we’d fill with messages and drop into the ocean somewhere along our way. For months the bottle sat on our kitchen counter, a symbol of our sailing goal and a reminder to keep working hard so we could make it a reality. Our 5-year-old daughter Vivian was the first to begin contributing to its contents, adding a series of family portraits and some stories penned in her sweet kindergarten scrawl. Over time, we all added our messages to the bottle: notes about ourselves, our family's travel plans, and stories about our beloved 12-year-old Chocolate Lab named Sadie who would be accompanying us on our trip. A few months later, in the early morning hours of Jan. 4, 2017, as we made the crossing through the gulf stream between West Palm Beach, Florida, and West End, Bahamas, we dropped our bottle, tightly corked and sealed with wax, into the churning sea, and watched it float away.  

For the first few months of sailing, we pondered our bottle’s whereabouts.  Had it stayed afloat? Found land and shattered on rocks? Was there a chance that it would be discovered? But over time, as our sailing life consumed our thoughts and imaginations, we forgot about the bottle and stopped wondering what had happened to it.

Throughout the next 12 months of sailing, Sadie was by our sides through all our adventures, exploring beaches, attempting to snatch kaleidoscopic fish from sparkling waters, barking fiercely at dolphins. She was healthy and happy that first year, but by the time we reached the BVI in March 2018, 14 months after we left Florida, Sadie’s health began to decline. A vet there delivered news we never wanted: Our dog had cancer. In a matter of weeks, we watched the light fade from her huge, golden eyes and witnessed her energy level diminish day by day. When we hit St Martin, she was really suffering. We laid Sadie to rest on that island, and our grief was overwhelming.           

A few weeks after losing our dog, we received the following email:

“Hi Julia Family,

Greetings from Bermuda! Attached find a photo of my mom who found your messages in a bottle off a small island in Bermuda. We are a Portuguese/Bermudian family from Azores/Bermuda. 

Have a great day!

P.S. We also have a Chocolate Lab named Sadie.”

There are no words to describe our shock. Our bottle had been found intact.  Trav immediately looked at a map and discovered that over the last 19 months, our bottle had traveled over 1,000 miles (perhaps more) in the vast Atlantic. If you have ever been offshore at sea and can grasp the enormity of the ocean, you will picture our tiny bottle bobbing through it’s eternal blue for that length of time and know what a miracle it is that it ended up where it did. The miraculous nature of its journey is compounded by the fact that it wound up on Bermuda, a tiny island only 15 miles long and two-and-a-half miles wide, situated alone, 600 miles from the United States. Bermuda is surrounded by reefs and rocks, and has few beaches. That the bottle found its way to this remote, rocky, out-of-the-way place in one piece is almost unexplainable. 

But the wildest, most serendipitous part of all of this, is that the family who found our bottle have a Chocolate Lab named Sadie. That incredible, beautiful coincidence lit a spark in our hearts that will stay with us for the rest of our lives. In the midst of our sadness and loss, we’d received a sign from our Sadie. She was reminding us of the depth and breadth of possibility that exists in the world, letting us know that she's still with us. 

As we maneuver our way through fear, constant change and the threat of giant squids, I will continue looking for serendipity. I won’t just search for the big examples, but simple ones, like running into a friend on the street who I’ve been thinking about or finding $5 in a forgotten pocket. Whatever the fluke or happenstance, I will savor it. I will use it as a reminder that good things surround me. And I’ll take it as a sign that I am, in some small way, on the right track.