Let’s face it. Our planet is a very large space, and though I have traversed a reasonable amount of it, though not nearly enough, the idea that in traveling you might coincidentally bump into someone you knew when you were a child, or that you met when traveling through Europe, is hard to get your mind around.
And yet, it happens. Time and time again we meet up with people in the most unlikely of circumstances, we cross a road and there that person is. Had we not crossed, or done it a minute later, the connection would not have happened.
Sometimes it feels like the world is shrinking. Two teaching friends of mine each independently set off for a trip around Europe. One has a voice and a cackle that would wake the dead. I know nobody who is as loud as she.
So my other friend got off her bus, and heard the cackle. She stood still. It couldn’t be her. Though both live in Canberra, they never bump into each other, so how on earth might this be happening?
But it was. The story in itself is not very interesting, but the coincidence certainly is.
Though Irish born, she now lives in Dumfries, a beautiful part of Scotland that our famous bard, Robert Burns was inspired to write so much about, including one of my favorite poems, A Man’s A Man For A’ That.
If I were back in Scotland we would be living just over an hour away from each other. As is stands, I am now in the Antipodes, in Canberra, to be specific..
Carol looks at surprise occurrences in her life and poses the question, are they coincidence, or fate?
Though I have included many of the serendipitous occurrences in the lives of my family, in my book, In The Name Of My Father, I was reminded of so many more of them, and inspired to share them, after reading Carol’s article.
Let’s start close to home
My husband is also Scottish, though he arrived in Adelaide when he was about to turn nine, so has few childhood memories of Scotland. I came a number of years later, as a young teacher, and our paths should never really have crossed.
While I was teaching in Adelaide, he was in Sydney doing his PhD, and at the end of that, the proposition that he do some post-doctoral study in America, was mooted.
Fortunately he had other interests, the love of folk-music, as did I, and at a folk music club that was largely peopled by Brits and Irish, we met.
I had plans to return home. His may have been for further study. But the universe had a different course planned for us.
And then, some years ago we spent some time working on Bougainville Island in PNG. We knew nobody there, but a few weeks after our arrival, a family moved in next door. They had a boy called Alistair! My husband is also Alistair!
That opened up the conversation for us. We discovered we were from the same town, and eventually recognized each other from our school day commutes (to different high schools but on the same bus).
I called my mother in great excitement, who knew her mother well, it seemed, though I didn’t.
We also met an interesting couple there, Mel and Mary-Kath Togolo. He was (is) from the Rorovana people, the blue-black, tall and very handsome islanders close to PNG. She was from Adelaide. They met at university in Port Moresby. She was his lecturer and he, the student. They were married by the time we met.
We returned to Adelaide where our daughter was born. We chose them to be her godparents,(by proxy), and in the middle of the ceremony, the priest stopped, looking confused. He then explained that Mary-Kath was his cousin.
South African experiences
My mother had an interesting experience too. In South Africa to visit my sister, she bumped into our Scottish neighbors who were visiting their daughter. By that time my parents had migrated to Adelaide to join the rest of the family, but still, they instantly recognized each other, overjoyed to have met up again.
And speaking of South Africa, my sister set up home there, (with her husband, a metalurgist), for a long time. But in the first few months, when she was at her loneliest, she met her best friend from primary school, who had also taken up residence there.
That was coincidental enough, but then she met a freind who had been in most of her classes in high school. They became great friends once more. So far away from home, but two close friendships energized, and the lives of expats enriched.
So many serendipitous stories, for me, center around Adelaide. By this time I had lived there for just under two years, and a couple of Scottish friends called to invite us to meet a new couple from Glasgow. All of us were teachers, so we’d have something in common.
I couldn’t believe the coincidence. The woman Geraldine, had attended teachers’ college with me. We were in different friendship groups, but recognized each other.
The thing is, had the librarian where I worked, not introduced me to her Scottish friends, who were friends of her brother, none of this would have happened.
Some years later, Geraldine and her husband returned to Glasgow and teaching. On one occasion, my cousin, a principal of a school by then, met Geraldine at an in-service. When Maire, my cousin, learned that Geraldine had lived in Adelaide, she spoke of me, prefacing it with, she realized it was a large city and she probably would never have met me, but maybe through teaching?
Not only had she done so, but she also attended our wedding! Small world.
And now, this incredible reuniting below, I just love. I HAD to massage it into my book, In The Name Of My Father.
The story goes like this.
Two of our Adelaide friends, Di and Ian, had flown to England to spend time with their daughter, a doctor, who was doing further study, a PhD, in Oxford. Now just to be clear, I know Di because she and my husband studied mathematics at Adelaide university together!
They decided to spend a few weeks in regional France with their daughter and her husband, and to that end, rented a gîte. The owner was a Scot, (still is!), and was delighted to find that our friends hailed from Adelaide. He explained that his best friend in high school also lived there, though sadly they had lost touch.
‘Maybe you know him?’ he suggested hopefully.
Di explained that the city was rather large, but undeterred he mentioned his friend’s name…who just happened to be my brother!
Can you imagine?
Within a time-frame of twenty minutes or so, my friend had called me, I called my brother and passed on the requisite details, and the pair were once more in touch.
Once again…can you imagine?
Another coincidental, somewhat heartwarming event, happened for that same brother. He wanted to show his new wife where my father hailed from, in Ireland. He had an idea of where he’d been born, somewhat vague in details, but nonetheless they began their search, to no avail.
At one stage they turned down a lane that led to a home where an old lady was sweeping her veranda…yet another dead end, or so they thought. They got out of the car, explained what they were endeavoring to do, apologizing for possibly frightening her.
“And what would your father’s name be?” she asked. He told her.
‘That’s right,’ she answered. “Your father was Jim’s cousin. And you have two sisters, Maria and Ann,’ and with that, she invited them in for afternoon tea. And though she was by then, quite an old lady, she seemed to be totally undeterred by stranger danger!
Are all these meetings coincidental, or is there a hidden purpose that might go against our life’s plan?
The Chinese have a belief in an invisible thread that unites people who are destined to meet at some point in their lives. The thread may tangle and twist, but will never break.
It’s a lovely thought, and a hope perhaps, for things inexplicable.
All of these twists and turns in our lives leave us wondering, how far do we independently plan our lives, or to what extent does some force do the planning for us?
I suppose we will never know. Life is what it is. We can reason, we can complain, and we can worry, but at the end of the day things happen to all of us, and we wonder.
So there’s message in this for all of you…
Bear in mind you do not have control of everything in life. And if you did, how bland might that be?
Also, that door that you planned to walk through, the one that closed on you and made you frightened, sad, or both, was meant to be. You were not supposed to be on that pathway. That was the wrong door for you. It was not a journey planned for you. The universe has its own plans, and when you look back there will be reassurance that all was meant to be.
When you are in doubt, stop and take stock. Assess the situation and try to work things through. Though you may not be happy with where you are, know that all will be well, eventually. Go with the flow. Don’t fight the bends and twists of your life. Expect the unexpected, and when it arrives on your doorstep as the gist that it is, cherry pick the parts that will make you, you, and trust in the adventure of life.