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 :)