No Coincidence, No Story

A coincidence, by definition, is a striking occurrence of two or more events at one time, apparently by mere chance.


Most of us encounter coincidences regularly in our day-to-day lives: we run into a friend having dinner at the  same restaurant, meet someone who shares the same birthday, or read a word in a magazine only to hear it on TV seconds later. But is “chance”, i.e. just dumb luck, really the culprit?

Some people believe that coincidences aren’t really “random” at all, but can be mathematically traced back to some sort of underlying probability.

Others, like Deepak Chopra, believe that coincidences are not mere happenstance, but clues from the universe that hold some sort of sign or underlying message.


While I don’t consider myself a particularly spiritual or religious person, the romantic in me is sort of inclined to agree with the latter. I’ve always been a big believer in fate; serendipity and sliding doors and all that. Every time I miss the subway, I wonder whether it has altered the path of my life forever. Had I not stopped to check my curling iron was unplugged for the 15th time, perhaps I would have met the love of my life on that train. We might have bonded over the fact that we were both listening to the same song on our iPods, and before long, I’d be cutting my hair, dyeing it blond and carrying his baby.

………..Ok, so that’s sort of the plot to the actual movie Sliding Doors. But hey, it’s my fantasy here.


Given my preoccupation with coincidences, I was excited to discover that this week’s podcast of This American Life was all about that very topic.


Have you noticed that I am macking all of my blog post ideas from podcasts lately? I should really channel this energy into creating financial derivatives. That sh*t would be far more lucrative.

Anyway, the title of the podcast is based on an old Chinese maxim: No Coincidence, No story. In other words, if there were no coincidences, there would be no stories.The episode featured some of the best coincidence stories sent in by This American Life listeners: from an engaged couple who discovered that their respective parents had nearly gotten engaged years earlier; to a girl’s chance encounter with her biological father at a bus station. ( I won’t spoil the surprise for you in case you want to listen yourself- which I highly recommend you do!)


All of this got me thinking about the coincidences that have occurred in my own life. I racked my brain and came up with the following list:

  • My niece Lola and I are both adopted and both left-handed (the only ones in our family who are)
  • I ran into a girl I went to elementary school with here in Toronto recently. This was surprising for a number of reasons:
  • We grew up in a small town of 5,000 people over 3,000 km away from here;
  •  I don’t know a single other person from my hometown who lives in Toronto;
  • Where we met was nowhere near where either of us live. We both just happened to be walking there at the same time. I found it crazy that in a city this big we somehow ran into each other.
  • The day before I flew to Toronto for my job interview, I was anxious and on edge. I didn’t know if moving to Toronto was the right thing for me, and was feeling insecure about my qualifications. So I went for a run in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax to blow off some steam. Just as I was turning a corner, a blue jay flew directly in my path. I had never seen a blue jay in that park before, and given its association with TO, I took this as a sign that all would work out and I was meant to be here.


Admittedly, these “coincidences” are deeply personal, and probably not very remarkable to anyone else. And that makes sense. Studies have shown that we have an egocentric bias towards our own coincidences: we find stories that happen to us inherently far more interesting than those that happen to other people.

While they are undoubtedly special memories that I will always cherish, I can’t help but feel sort of gipped that in a canvass of my entire life, these were the best coincidences I could come up with. I’ve never dialed the wrong number and ended up with a new best friend, or met a long lost cousin on a train to Uzbekestan. In the words of Drunk Uncle, “That’s not me”.


I kind of wish it were though. I feel like then my life would be inherently far more interesting.

At the end of the podcast, the host concluded that regardless of what you believe about coincidences, there’s a beauty In even noticing them in the first place. And I kind of agree. At least that’s what I tell myself when I’m standing alone on the subway platform 🙂

Question of the Day: What is the most interesting coincidence that has happened to you?


45 thoughts on “No Coincidence, No Story

Add yours

  1. I, unfortunately, can’t answer your question right not, but I assume that’s a coindence – pesky little random things, always getting in the way. I’ll just look around your blog, see if something than I can answer, coincidentally shows up. Cheers.


  2. Yesterday, my newspaper column referenced April Wine. The issue also carried a story about a reconstituted April Wine coming to Sherbrooke. What have we learned from this? 1) My coincidences are very boring. 2) The fact that an April Wine concert makes the local news says some sad, sad things about our local news.
    Long live Point Pleasant Park.


    1. An April Wine concert would FOR SURE make the news in small town NS too. Like, I’m talking one front-page feature per day for the whole week leading up to it


  3. Hmm. That’s a tough one! I suppose it’s interesting that my mom was born on February 13th, the same day as her brother only 9 years later. I was born on June 13th. And there were 13 years between my grandma and grandpa. Kind of cool, I think. It’s a special number.


  4. I go through phases, sometimes I’ll be in a phase where I think we’re all being taken care of by the universe, and coincidences are signs. Other times I will think the universe is b****. Depends on the day, and sometimes on the hour of the day.


    1. Me too. Although most of the time I appreciate them, sometimes I feel like I don’t even notice or fully acknowledge coincidences. I think I’d like to do that more.. and generally take a more positive outlook on them.


  5. I’ve got a good one…..the day I was born so was another little baby, i was a little white baby with blonde hair and beside me was a little black boy with an unruly head of black curls. We were born on the same day, in the same hospital, and we were put side by side in the receiving room. 38 years later, we married each other.


  6. My father’s birthday 12/5
    His mother’s (my grandmother’s birthday) 12/4
    My ex-husband’s birthday 12/5
    My ex-girlfriend’s birthday 11/26
    My partner’s birthday 11/24
    All Sagittarius.
    Coincidence? Can’t be. For some reason, I am wildly attracted to archers and need them in my life to figure out whatever it is that I’m supposed to be doing on this madcap planet. That, and if you’re Freudian, I’m looking for someone to replace my father.


  7. Here’s today’s double coincidence. I began the day formulating a piece in my head about the increasing speed of correspondence in a very short time, from faxes to emails to instance messaging, etc. I went to the library to return a book, and picked up off the new arrivals rack “84 Charing Cross Road,” (1970) which is a series of overseas correspondence from 1949 to 1969 (and a delight to read; and short!). So that’s a small coincidence. But the address of the American writer in the book was 72nd Street just off 2nd Avenue in New York, right across the street from where my family stayed exactly a year ago last March Break. Now that I’ve written it out, I realize this is about as exciting as hearing about someone’s dream.
    But thought I’d share…


    1. That is cool! And a very personal coincidence!
      On a tangential note (and perhaps a small coincidence itself) I was just looking at the fax machine in my office on Friday and wondering who uses it anymore, and how often. Now that we can scan things to PDF and e-mail them, what’s the point?
      Anyway, good luck with the piece!


  8. I’ve occasionally bumped into people from different parts of my life decades later, or discovered that new friends have some tenuous connection with other people in my distant past. Sometimes I chalk it up to coincidence, sometimes it’s just because the older I get, the more strings to past places and people I have tied to me.


    1. That’s an interesting thought about the more strings or places you have tied to you… the idea that the longer you live and the more people you meet, the higher the probability of “coincidences” occurring.
      I wonder what Deepak would have to say about that one!


  9. I believe in them completely, but more in the Deepak way. I like to think of them as little nudges or opportunities to be reminded that at all times we have choices. Have you ever seen “Mr. Nobody” with the hotness that is Jared Leto? It’s long and weird, but exactly on-topic and oh-so-good. Have a look. And, have a great weekend!


  10. On two separate occasions and two separate social media ish sites, I met people who knew people that went to my college. Odd because its a small private Christian college, only about 1500 students per year. And both instances were discussion topics/environments that it was odd, that “whoa, small world” feeling.


  11. My sister and I were in a pub one evening having a few drinks and this guy comes over to us and we started chatting. After a little while we discover we were all born in the same area of the country. Digging a little further, we realised we were 2nd cousins… spooky or what!


  12. I am watching the movie Serendipity for the first time (it came out in 2001), and on the off chance I check your blog and it’s about coincidence. That’s something!


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