It’s a Coincidental World, After All

06/22/2010

Still makes me shiver. Thanks, Janice.

Today, downsizing takes a philosophical turn.

I’m not talking about how, philosophically, I believe a more streamlined life is a more enlightened life.

Buddha beat me to that observation.

Nor do I intend to reflect on the connection between downsizing and eco-consciousness. There’s a daily reminder roiling in the Gulf of the wretched excess of our collective petroleum-based sins.

Nope, not pursuing either enlightenment or consciousness-raising. Today I will give a nod to Coincidence, the class-clown of the philosophy department.

I love coincidences.

I love it when Charles Dickens reveals a whopper of a coincidence in a complicated plot such as Great Expectations or Oliver Twist—and no 21st century complaining: he tips his hat right there in the titles! I love this characteristic of 19th century novels. Sign me up for more seemingly random, completely orchestrated, deus ex machina, tomato surprise endings.

Maybe I wish life were pre-destined. I’ve always said I wish I had lived in the Soviet Union and had been identified by my comrades at age 5 as the next great tennis playing-gymnastics performing- astrophysicist of Mother Russia.

Because life was just that lucky, Back in the USSR.

But here’s what’s tickling my philosophical funny bone this morning:

Two utterly contradictory explanations for the phenomenon of coincidence.

John Forster, biographer, on its appeal to Charles Dickens:

“On the coincidences, resemblances, and surprises of life, Dickens liked especially to dwell, and few things moved his fancy so pleasantly.

The world, he would say, was so much smaller than we thought.”

And Dr. Sheldon Cooper’s take:

“Oh, well, this would be one of those circumstances that people unfamiliar with the law of large numbers would call a coincidence.”

So, which explanation appeals to you?

  • It’s a Small World After All         OR
  • Given a vast enough space/time continuum– Everything Will Happen.

I must confess that even though the first words out of my mouth when I run smack dab into a living, breathing coincidence are almost always, “Well, isn’t this a small world!” I am very much in the corner with Dr. Cooper:

Enough time, enough space: shit’s bound to happen.

[We’re all understanding who Sheldon Cooper is at this point, right?]

Cut to this morning’s chase: I want to direct your attention once again to a blog called Man vs. Debt, where Adam Baker has posted a fun list called “25 Inspiring Blogs to Help You Sell Your Crap, Pay Off Your Debt and Do What You Love…” Lots of fun surfing to be had there, but I kid you not: the very first link I followed had an anecdote about a crazy coincidence the writers of the blog had experienced.

They discovered in their family snapshots from a childhood trip to Disney World long before they had met, a picture in which the other’s family could be seen in the background of the picture! How often have you momentarily wondered how many other families’ pictures you or your children are walking through? But who expects not only to have one be near someone who will wind up playing a significant role in your life, but also to have documentation of the almost-encounter?

It’s Dickensian, I tell you!

But wait! Because Coincidentally, I have a Kodak-preserved prologue of my own to share.

When Paul and I lived in Fredericksburg, we became friends with a woman who told us she had traveled to Philmont Boy Scout Ranch where Paul worked several summers in the 1970’s as a ranger in a historic reenactment program. She had traveled not just to the same ranch, it was during one of the same summers. And it was not just the same summer, she assured us she had experienced one of Paul’s programs. And we didn’t just have to accept her remote but insistent memory as proof; she had pictures! Pictures she actually located. Pictures of my 20-year old future husband, 7 years and three time zones before I would meet him, 9 years before she would see him again.

She gave me one picture, the picture above, on which she had written:

“One of the rangers at the trapping and skinning camp. He was in charge of black-powder rifles. Could only bathe once a month.”

That’s my sweetie, not much older but certainly far stinkier than my Sam. And that’s about as precious a gift of coincidence as I have ever received.

When Sam was 13, he wrote a great song called Coincidence. Because he was 13 and being forced to move to another state by his rotten parents, it has a dark tone, with a memorable line:

“Seems like coincidence, but there’s nothing funny here.”

His guitar teacher arranged for them to perform it at a local open mic night. Of course, his proud mama video taped it. What if I happened also to record Sam’s future significant someone?

It would be a modern Dickensian coincidence!

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7 Responses to “It’s a Coincidental World, After All”

  1. Elizabeth Says:

    He only bathed once or month? I bet you can SMELL him in that photo, too.

    I like to think that the world is chock full of randomness. As for coincidence, I don’t have much of a stand either way.

  2. kara Says:

    Too funny! I love “could only bathe once a month.”

  3. Paul Says:

    In my defense, we did take sweats and roll around in the creek afterward, but there was no shower or other bathing facility. Since we only got a couple of days off a month to get to civilization (a 5-hour hike away) true bathing was a rare and much-lingered-over activity.

    But, yes, I didn’t smell very good either….

  4. Paul Says:

    Short answer: A sauna.

    Long answer: Next to the creek, we built a frame out of branches, draped old tent canvas over it and put a fire ring outside. Four people could huddle inside with a pit in the middle.

    We then filled an old, metal milk crate — the kind that are plastic now — with rocks. Placed the crate in the middle of a roaring fire. After the rocks got hot, we ran wooden tent pole through the carrier and hauled those rocks into the sweat lodge. Tossed water on the rocks and sweated up a storm.

    We tried to stay in as long as we could, but after awhile you couldn’t take it anymore. We crawled out the tent flap and dashed for the creek. The idea was to jump right in the middle of water that was little more than snowmelt. No soap, but you felt completely clean after that.

    I suggest we put a sweat lodge in the back yard and use a garden sprinkler for our stream. The neighbors might complain, though, when we come screaming out of there in all our glory.

  5. ResuMAYDAY Says:

    Awesome post. I love coincidence – and serendipity – but inherently, I too side with the Coop.


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