Just a Coincidence?

Chance is not always random. Sometimes it’s marvelous.

| May / June 2003

I was walking down the street thinking about a friend I hadn’t seen for some time, and when I looked up, there he was, standing at the corner with his wife. He was looking at me in some surprise, for it turned out they had been speaking of me in the same moment that I had been thinking of him. We congratulated ourselves on arriving there at just the right moment for these facts to be revealed to us. We talked for a while, as there were many things we had been meaning to discuss with each other, and when we parted I had the happy sense that the substance of my day had been revealed.

Only later did I recall that none of us had referred to our fortunate meeting as a coincidence, which is what it was, of course. But coincidence is a word that we have learned to distrust, a mildly derogative term used by parents, teachers, and other grown-ups to dismiss the marvelous. “Only a coincidence” is the way they usually put it, as if to say that meaning and significance lie not in the coincidental, but elsewhere, in a more real world shaped by an iron law of cause and effect. What no one ever points out is that a coincidence has to be perceived in order to exist, and thus is a function of our way of looking at the world. If my friend and I had not seen each other, there would have been no such event. This is perhaps the thing about coincidence that troubles the rationally minded, who tend to believe an event has to be an event whether or not anyone actually witnesses it.