This past month I indulged a longtime interest in coincidences and bought two books on the subject. One was Incredible Coincidences, the Baffling World of Synchronicity by Alan Vaughan. The book was published in 1989 and is now out of print, so I had to buy it through used book dealers via Amazon.com. Alan Vaughan relates various true life strange coincidences in the book but also delves into the theory of coincidences, termed “synchronicity” by Psychologist Carl Jung. Synchronicity is basically meaningful coincidences that happen without cause, i.e. they are acausal. What is really interesting is the implications these phenomena point to, namely, that the human mind is capable of extrordinary things not fully understood, and that the nature of reality is not so cut-and-dried as we might think.
Vaughan’s tales of coincidences are interesting if not fascinating. For example, he tells of a woman in Berekely, California who is locked out of her house and wondering how to get in. Then the postman walks up and hands her a letter from her brother. Inside is a spare key.
A housewife loses her ring in a potato field. Forty years later she is cutting a potato and finds the ring inside.
Most coincidences are not startling, just interesting. The second book I read was What A Coincidence, the Wow Factor in Synchronicity by Susan Watkins. It was a book I found while browsing Amazon.com and sounded interesting, so I ordered it.
Susan relates a number of personal coincidences that are interesting but not necessarily astounding. She notes that coincidences seem to happen in clusters, or sometimes update themselves with the passage of time. As if to illustrate coincidences, she tells about her son Sean who rode a motorcycle (against her wishes). Interesting. I have a son Sean who rode a motorcycle and I nagged him regularly to give it up. Finally he did. Okay, that is not an earth shaking coincidence, just a mildly interesting one.
However, Susan tells of how her son Sean moved to San Francisco in 1989 and lived through the big earthquake that year. While he was there, she looked on a map and was surprised to see that there was a little town called Hollister south of San Francisco. She thought it significant, because she had lived on a street named Hollister. I thought it was pretty significant too, as I was sitting in my backyard in Hollister, California reading about Susan thinking about Hollister, California. She lives on the East Coast. Hollister is a small cow town with about 15,000 residents. It is not well known by any means. Okay Susan, you got my attention. What better way to teach coincidences than by demonstrating one?
We all have stories of coincidences that were meaningful to us. One of my most striking ones happened three years ago. I have a friend named Larry who lives in Gilroy, California. I had been helping him with his tax returns and negotiating with the IRS. Our efforts were difficult but successful. It was a big relief to both of us.
Two weeks later I flew to Seattle, Washington to begin a consulting assignment there. I got off the plane and walked to the rental car area where I was told to take the elevator down. However, I pushed the wrong button and went a floor further down than I should have. When the elevator doors opened, I walked out just as Larry was walking in. He cried, “Gary, what are you doing here?” I said “Larry???”
Larry was there to drop off a rental car after visiting relatives in Seattle. I was there to pick up a rental car. If I had not pushed the wrong elevator button, we would have missed each other completely. The fact that we were there, 800 miles from home, in the same spot at the same time was incredible. Neither of us knew the other would be in Seattle. What are the odds?
Another coincidence of the everyday variety involved my first son, Gary Jr. Gary used to drive a big rig truck up and down the west coast. Starting from northern Washington he would drive all the way to Los Angeles and back. One morning he was driving through the Bay Area and called me on his cell phone. We were yakking it up when Gary asked me where I was. I told him I was stopped at a light at the intersection of Highway 25 and 156. He said, “I’m approaching that intersection now.” I couldn’t see in his direction, as there was a large Pepsi truck on my right side blocking my view of Highway 156. I told Gary, “There’s a big Pepsi truck on my right side.” He replied, “I see it!” Then WHOOSH! His big rig went speeding through the intersection and we saw each other just for a second as he sped out of sight. “I saw you!” he exclaimed. “I saw you too!” I replied.
This was another interesting and meaningful coincidence. Gary Jr. drives a route of 1,500 miles and finds me at the same intersection for a split second in the morning of a workday. If I’d left the house five minutes earlier or five minutes later, we would have missed each other.
I love coincidences and synchronicity. They are like chili peppers in the gruel of life.