Lurkers, I want to hear from you as well as from all the regulars. This is the kind of thread that works best when everyone participates. Think of the craziest, weirdest coincidence that ever happened to you, or someone close to you, and tell us about it in the comments.
As regular readers know, I’m a fan of the “This American Life” show on Public Radio International. Last night I listened to one of the most delightful episodes I’ve ever heard, which is saying a lot. It was an episode about coincidences. They asked listeners for examples of their crazy coincidences, checked out the stories, and reported them for an hour.
I think my favorite was a guy who was getting ready to ask a girl out, and earlier that day just happened to find a dollar bill with her name written on it. He framed it and showed it to her just after she said yes. She seemed to have a strong reaction but said nothing, saying only that he should ask her about it later. Years later, after they were married, she told him that years earlier, she had written her name on a dollar bill and put it into circulation, telling herself that whoever found it would be the man she married. When the guy found it and told her, she didn’t want to say anything, for fear of scaring him off.
The show was full of stories like that: stories that make you grin and exclaim out loud: “No way!”
After hearing the show, I started trying to think of my own examples. What is frustrating is that I know there are several, but very few spring readily to mind. Still, I fell asleep last night thinking about them, which is a pleasant pasttime that in a strange way forces you to review your entire life.
One example I came up with involved a trip Mrs. P. and I took to Hawaii. A friend of ours from the D.A.’s office named Frank was getting married in Maui and invited us to the wedding. Most of the guests stayed at the Four Seasons, which was the site of the wedding, but to save money we stayed in a condo about a mile away, up a hill. One morning, Mrs. P. and I were walking down the hill alongside a side road when a car pulled up next to us. A man sitting in the passenger seat rolled down the window and asked us for directions to some landmark. I looked at him and said: “Franco??” It took him a second to recognize me. It was another D.A. named Franco who was the man asking for directions.
Not so odd, right? He was there for the wedding, too, right? Here’s the weird part: no, he wasn’t. When I asked Franco if he was there for Frank’s wedding, he seemed to have no idea what I was talking about.
I saw Frank later and asked him if he had invited Franco to the wedding. No. Had he talked to Franco about coming to Maui? No. Did he know Franco was coming to Maui? No.
No, we just randomly ran into someone we knew in Maui. And if his wife had been the passenger, and Franco had been driving, we wouldn’t even have known.
Another fun one is my wife’s affiliation with the number 444. At some point a few years ago, she started noticing that number cropping up in her life virtually everywhere she looked. It started when she started waking up in the middle of the night at 4:44 a.m., night after night. After this happened several nights in a row, she read a police report about embezzlement, in which the thief would steal $400 at a time, as a cash advance, which charged 11%. The spreadsheet was filled with the number 444. The next day, she reviewed another police report where a 911 call came in at 4:44. That night our son was playing Wii bowling, and got a new high score. (He did not yet know about the 444 coincidences.) He came running in to tell Mrs. P. about his score, and kept saying: “Isn’t that weird?!” It was, of course, 444.
It started happening all the time. I tell her she should write down the examples. When you’re looking for it, the number comes up so often that it is comical, and indeed it is a running joke in our household. Any time we notice the clock at 4:44, we cry out: “444!!!” and Mrs. P. professes shock. There’s that number again!
There are other coincidences that are less jaw-dropping, but are the sort of thing that become part of the story of your life. Mrs. P. grew up in Frankfurt, KY, and I grew up in Fort Worth, TX. We met in Austin. Yet her grandparents lived on the same street in southwest Fort Worth as my parents. As a young child she would visit her grandparents and go often to the Southwest Public Library, the same library I frequented as a child. We’ll never know if we were there at the same time, but somehow it seems inevitable that we were. In any event, it is fun to imagine the closest we ever came to each other as seven-year-olds in Fort Worth, before we met as adults at law school in Austin, TX.
Of course, to rationalists, it’s perhaps even more fun to debunk coincidences, and I am open to those stories as well. Perhaps the guy who found the dollar bill never “found” it — he heard about the story from a friend of his romantic target, and wrote her name on it himself. Maybe my D.A. friend Franco heard someone talking about Frank’s wedding in Maui and thought, hey, that sounds like a good idea — and then forgot where he had heard it. My wife and I both have roots in Fort Worth — she was born there — and that contributed in some way to our getting to know each other. For one thing, we would carpool up to Fort Worth during breaks, me to see my parents, and she to see her grandparents, uncles, and aunts.
Some people say: there are no coincidences.
On “This American Life” they put it differently. They quote a Chinese saying: “No Coincidence, No Story.”
So tell us your stories about your own coincidences in the comments.