Coincidences – “a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection.”
They’re weird. They seem so random, yet, what are the chances, surely it’s synchronicity in action?
Do they mean anything?
Actions have innumerable repercussions. They cause ripples that reverberate through the universe with consequences that we will never appreciate or see.
It’s like that famous Steve Jobs quote:
“…it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later. Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something“.
It’s easy to read meaning into pretty much anything with hindsight. Even the most innocent of incidents.
But, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anything means anything.
I have family and friends who are intent on reading “meaning” into everything. I’m not talking about understanding how something came about. These people believe that life is prescribed to play out in a certain way. Many are religious. Convinced that whatever happens is “God’s will”. That whatever happens is “meant to be”.
But, then I think of the 60 million people killed in World War II and all the others wars; the 800,000 slaughtered in Rwanda; the 1.5-3 million souls murdered in the Cambodian genocide, the 230,000 men, women and children wiped out in a single day in the 2004 tsunami, and the Haiti earthquake; the famines and epidemics that have obliterated vast portions of the human race; the large airline disasters; 9/11; Grenfell Tower; and the myriad other humanitarian tragedies.
People undergo tremendous suffering and are killed or die every minute of the day. I don’t see any rhyme or reason.
What are coincidences?
Luck? Randomness? Miracles?
Many things we take for granted and understand today would be considered miracles centuries ago.
Yuval Harari discusses this in Homo Deus – from the Greeks believing in Zeus the God of sky and thunder, and the Egyptians believing in Ra the sun God – humans have been searching for meaning for centuries. Looking for patterns. Trying to make sense of things. Wanting to find order – an explanation.
The weather for example. Any correlation between the weather and worship, making offerings and sacrificing animals – from a scientific point of view is completely random. But back then, (although it still goes on in some parts of the world), we had less understanding of the laws of science.
Accepting that something is purely random is difficult. Human brains are wired to look for meaning. To automatically fill in the gaps when information is missing – trying to understand.
A lot of relationships suffer from this. Communication is hard. Sometimes seemingly impossible.
It’s rare to understand what is going on in someone else’s mind. So, people make assumptions. Fall back on interpreting what little they do know as best they can. Filling in the gaps themselves. Making up stories that often have little chance of holding any semblance to the truth.
It’s amazing that human beings can interact at all.
We all have our biases, and pre-conceptions. Our own mental model of looking at the world coloured by a life time of personal experiences.
Nothing is objective. Everything is subjective.
They’re all decent films – worth watching. Based on true stories.
Seeing or hearing about seemingly miraculous events gives me a lot of hope.
What is a miracle? An inexplicable extraordinary event? Or mere luck? Chance? Randomness?
Maybe everything is a miracle. Maybe miracles or strokes of extreme luck are happening all the time – we’re just not seeing them.
We only see what’s happened, or what’s happening. We don’t see the near misses – what might have been. Or anything to which we are oblivious – which is a lot.
The most everyday things may be miraculous. The natural world. Any form of life. The human body is miraculous. (Having your own children seems to be miraculous, judging by how difficult it seems for so many people.)
Not that any of the “coincidences” in my life have been that unique.
Most involve randomly running into friends or people I’ve previously met in some capacity. While walking around the city, or in the country, on the tube, in restaurants, in London, Australia, and all over the world.
I’ve kept a list of random coincidences I’ve experienced over the years.
Some seemed utterly meaningless, others serendipitous.
Whether any of them “meant” anything or not? I don’t know.
Emma and Scott for example – two people who have had a seismic impact on my life. We lived with them in Queensway and they were responsible for introducing Andrew and I. We lost touch when we moved out, and randomly ran into each other walking along the Thames near Battersea years later – an area which we never visited.
Or there’s Elen Owen, an old friend from primary school who was visiting London for a weekend from Cardiff, who I found in my tube carriage, (after accidentally taking another tube in the wrong direction, on my way home, from a part of town I rarely visit).
Come to think of it – there are so many occasions when I’ve got onto a tube or train carriage only to be faced with people I’d lost touch with – ex boyfriends, old colleagues, good friends.
Statistically, I don’t know the probability of these events occurring.
I don’t know that many people, and I’m only in one place at a time.
Sometimes it makes sense. People you know generally have comparable interests and congregate in similar places, or work in the same areas. There are more jobs in London than anywhere else in the UK, plus it’s a tourist destination, so it makes sense that people find themselves here.
Sometimes the world feels small. Like we’re part of a randomly assembled invisible matrix, of which there are millions. Each consisting of a small portion of the world’s population, within which you are destined to run into the same people now and again. (Am I sounding like I’m going insane yet?)
Travelling across countries, you often run into the same people. But, that makes sense. Fellow travellers are often of a similar demographic, want to see the same sights, have similar budgets, and tend to gather in the same areas.
Yet in a city of 7 million people, running into people I know always ASTOUNDS me!
Like, randomly running into countless people I’ve worked alongside, or went to uni with, years later.
Running into Kevin who lived in the room next door to me at halls in uni, and who turned out to be living on the same estate as I, ten years later.
Or, running into completely random people, like Leroy who I danced in the street and chatted with for half an hour while waiting for a bus at 3.30am off Holloway Road, and who I ran into randomly in Bloomsbury, one dark Friday evening a couple of months later.
In a world of over 6 billion people – running into people I know BLOWS MY MIND!
Like, randomly walking onto a train in the middle of Sydney, right into my good friend Breenie, (who we also lived with in Queensway before she moved to Oz, and who is also responsible for introducing Andrew and I).
Followed by randomly running into an old colleague near the Opera House later that afternoon.
Running into Breenie again in Las Vegas. Unbeknown to any of us, we figured out the morning we were driving to Sin City from Joshua National Park that Breenie was also in Las Vegas. We rarely had internet access while camping in the desert, and Breenie is also rarely on social media and email, so I’m not sure how that came about. Breenie was leaving for NYC that night but we managed to find a few hours to catch up = gold.
Randomly running into Herb from Sheffield in a restaurant in Amsterdam. It’s always strange hearing a familiar voice in a foreign place. He was stoned and was really surprised to see us!
It plays with my mind…
Serendipitously running into good friends = awesome.
Running into old friends who you’ve lost contact with = great. (Emm… is the universe telling me that I need to reconnect with this person? Why?).
Running into randoms you’ve met briefly, or had some dealings with years ago = urm… is the universe telling me that I should re-connect with this person? Why?
There must be a reason right? What are the chances, or is it just completely random and means nothing.
Maybe it’s supposed to mean something and I need to figure out.
Maybe I’m supposed to make it mean something…?
Thinking like this drives me crazy!
And then there’s just the weird stuff.
The stuff that seems just lucky.
Getting great tickets in the Wimbledon ballot; finding out about tickets going on sale for concerts you want to see just in time to buy some; or being given tickets to what turns out to be Adele’s last concert because someone else can’t go.
My best friend having a talent for calling me when bad things happen. I’m not sending out a bat-signal and she isn’t psychic.
Being in the right place at the right time to capitalise on job opportunities, meet important people, being online and catching a useful tweet you would never see otherwise. Or, narrowly catching trains and planes, or missing bad traffic, terrorist events, or other disasters.
Being let in to see the Killers at Royal Albert Hall with fake tickets we’d bought from eBay, (we didn’t know it at the time – the guys on the door certainly did…).
Stories of losing and absurdly finding wedding rings; ending up sitting next to friends of friends on planes on the other side of the world; or running into people you met travelling on the tube.
I could go on.
The story of the Bus Stop Wanker and Taxi Angel
Life saving people seemingly appear out of nowhere just when you need them.
We were in Pondicherry. It was our last stop after almost two months in India. (I have a love hate relationship with India of which I’ll write another time…)
It was our last night. We were in the bus station, making our way to Chennai airport, where I was very much looking forward to boarding a Thai Airways flight to Bangkok.
The bus was late. We waited patiently – becoming increasingly concerned that we might miss our flight.
There was a festival on that day and a lot of drunk men around.
As the only white people, we typically stood out, and dealt with the usual staring and harassment. We were used to it by then – no big deal.
As I dreamed of cold Chang beer and my first pad thai in a long time, an old guy appeared and stood in front of me.
He was about a metre away, facing me. I was sitting on my rucksack and looked up at him just as he started jerking off – in front of me, and everyone else.
It was a public bus station. There were a lot of onlookers.
After two months in India, I wasn’t shocked, or scared, or surprisingly phased at all. I was more amused than anything.
And, for the record – I was covered up. I wasn’t wearing anything tight or revealing. Not that doing so would have made it acceptable. (The more I’ve exchanged stories about travelling in India, it seems that among women travelling there, being approached by men who proceed to wank next to them is a fairly common experience).
I hadn’t had that experience before. I’m no quasimodo, but neither am I a Beyonce look alike.
Andrew, was disgusted.
I guess I can’t imagine what it would be like to see an old lady masturbating over Andrew in front of me – in a public place, (our sex life is pretty unadventurous that way). I don’t think I would be that impressed either.
Before the dude could finish – Andrew had whisked up our bags and marched us out of the bus station.
Out of nowhere, another man approached us. He told us he was a taxi driver and politely offered to take us to the airport for half price.
At this point we were suspicious. It’s hard enough to negotiate a fair price for anything in India. What was the catch? What else did this guy want? Was he working with the wanker? Surely, this must be some sort of scam.
When pressed, the taxi driver, explained that he was going to collect some people from the airport, and didn’t want to waste a fare getting there, or time negotiating. The story seemed plausible, and our bus still hadn’t turned up.
We were close to missing our flight, and thanks to the wanker, neither of us were keen on going back to the bus stop.
So, we took the taxi angel up on his offer. Traffic was bad, but we didn’t get held to ransom or kidnapped, and made our flight with minutes to spare.
I guess that’s luck. Or coincidence. Or the miracle of the bus station wanker. Or the Pondicherry taxi angel. Or just a random story about both.