The older I get, the more I realize how improbable I am.
Each of us is a product of a meeting between two people. You might think the way in which people meet or don’t meet, connect or don’t connect, should be governed by chance, but something else often seems to be at work.
For example – my mother, Gwen, was very shy. When she was a young woman in the late 1930s, she and her more outgoing sister spent a summer in Bolsover, a small summer lakeside community north of Toronto, where she met a shy young man, Jim, who she liked. He had fallen in love with her, but he was too shy to say so.
Then she got the offer of a full-time job in a clothing factory, the first full-time job she would ever have, something she couldn’t let pass. A job then was not an easy thing to find.
The afternoon of the day when she was to return to the city for her first day of work, she and Jim were sitting in a car talking about many things, but not about their future together as they both hoped.
Dark clouds were developing overhead and thunder began to roll just as Jim appeared ready to say something important. Rain began to fall heavily, then the back door of the car opened suddenly and her sister Ethel jumped in.
“Whew!” she exclaimed from the back seat, “just in time!”
The conversation was over and my mother returned to the city and her new job in the factory. She met my father there and was soon married. She wrote to Jim to let him know and he replied, saying, “I guess it’s true, he who hesitates is lost.”
Had the rain, or my aunt, been ten minutes late, my mother would probably have not even spoken to my father and I would never have been born.
But the strength of Gwen and Jim’s desire to be together was strong. Fifteen years later my father died suddenly from a heart condition, and Jim’s wife died unexpectedly too. Gwen and Jim met again and got married. Jim became my stepfather.
Here’s another event.
In January of 1966, age 20, I was hitchhiking south on Italy’s Autostrada, on my way from Rome to Naples, when I got a ride in a car driven by an American diplomat, a tall strongly built Texan man about 50 years old. One of his assistants occupied the front passenger seat. I sat in the rear.
At that time, seat belts were new and only in front seats. So I had no seat belt.
We entered a torrential storm, but the Texan continued to drive at high speed. Suddenly something happened, maybe a tire blew, and the car swerved off the road, hit the edge of a ditch, then rolled violently over and over and over (I’m not exaggerating) barely missing several large trees.
The vehicle landed upright, the windows shattered and plastered with mud, the body wrecked. The Texan and I got out on the same side. My legs gave way immediately and I sank into the water of the ditch while he stood there looking scornfully at both the car and me, then slammed the door shut and declared, “That’s the end of that one.”
I managed to get up and cross the highway with them to a service center on the other side. A mechanic there who had witnessed the accident, learning that I had been in the car, expressed amazement that I was alive.
I had no broken bones, as far as I knew, but I had bruises all over, including a broad purple/ black bruise that covered my right shoulder and most of my back. Though I didn’t realize what they were then, I also had concussion symptoms for about a week.
Years later, after 20 years of accident investigation, I was examining the evidence of yet another rollover fatality one day, one where another non-seatbelted passenger was thrown from a vehicle and killed, as they almost always are, when it occurred to me that, based on what I had learned about such accidents, and considering that our rollover was more violent than any I had yet investigated, I should have been dead a long time ago.
Had someone, or something, protected me? Is there something hidden in the reality of this universe that meddles in our lives?
First, let’s look at another example. In 1969, on my birthday, I walked into a crowded bar after work looking to see if I could find a seat. An underwriting supervisor who I played rugby with was there with two of his staff. One of them, a young beautiful Afro-Carribbean woman, had the only free seat beside her so I took it.
Normally I had difficulty talking with beautiful women, but when I learned that she was from the island of Trinidad, I told her that I had read several of Vidia Naipaul’s books.
“Oh, we hate him,” she said. She told me how Trinidad-born Naipaul wrote his biting satires while in self-imposed comfortable exile in London. His books sold well in the UK, but not in Trinidad, at least then. He had offended most Trinidadians with his artful, insightful humor.
That conversation would lead to our marriage, two children and the life we still lead together.
Many years later my wife was looking through her old passports one day when she suddenly exclaimed, “You know what? I not only met you on your birthday, but I arrived in Canada on your birthday, exactly one year earlier!”
I should add that there is something unique about my wife. Most people who knew me then, including all three of my brothers, were amazed that I got married. Because I appeared to be an incurable loner, they thought I was incapable of getting married. In fact, up to the time of that meeting, I had not had a successful ‘relationship’ with any woman. The longest had been two months, and that one had, I thought, proven to me that I should remain apart.
When I look back on the women I have known during my life, before and after our meeting, I too am amazed, for I can’t name one other woman who I could have been a partner with.
And think of this. For every one of these ‘coincidences’, there may be many more that you are unaware of. My wife and I came close to going all through our lives without noticing that earlier date in her passport. These things may only be the ‘tip of an iceberg’.
Chance? Of course, chance must be there in the infinite chaos of existence, but during my life event after event has piled up until I had no choice left but to see these things.
Yes, there do seem to be unseen players. Guardians? Well, some people have the opposite experience. Some people are plagued with misfortune.
Some people, of course, say this is the work of God, or Krishna or Kali. Sceptics say they are nothing but illusions created by wishful imagination.
I take the middle road – the agnostic road – and simply admit that I don’t know what is going on.
When psychologist C. G. Jung labeled these phenomena examples of ‘synchronicity’ his famous term, he insisted that he was not proposing any source for them. He too had no idea how such things manifested themselves. But he insisted that they are real regardless, that they are facts of existence.
Last of all, I should also say that when I say that I see myself as improbable, I don’t mean that I think there is anything unusual about me. The only real difference in me, other than being a lifelong loner, someone somewhere on the spectrum, is that I have been acutely aware of these things since I was a boy, while most people seem to go through life unaware of them, or at least not thinking about them.
Try examining the details of your own life closely. You may find that you’re just as improbable as me.