There was a time when coincidences seemed to happen so often, a housemate joked we’d entered a ‘vortex’. Events collided and made loops. People called it probability. Whatever it was, it didn’t stop. The weirdest one happened on a train.
After a year of inner-city teacher-training I planned to leave the UK. A headteacher from a school in Mexico was in London recruiting staff. We met in Harrow-on-the-hill. Over coffee and croissants, he spoke about the job and the realities of life in Mexico city. After a while he said,
‘I’ll call you next week to offer you the post. Have a think about whether it’s for you.’
Standing on the platform waiting to board the train home, I wondered how I could find out. Life before Google meant school reputations were hard to discover; Mexico City was far away.
Travelling home, the carriage was busy. Children perched on parents’ laps. People thronged hoping for seats. A woman across the gangway was pressed to her mobile. I chatted with the elderly woman opposite, told her about the interview.
As the train pulled in to Manchester Piccadilly, the woman across the aisle tapped me on the shoulder.
‘I couldn’t help but overhear,’ she said, ‘Have you applied to teach at the British school in Mexico City, El Colegio Britanico ‘Edron’?’
‘Was the man who interviewed you…?’
She named the head teacher.
She offered her hand.’I’m Clare. You won’t believe this but I had exactly the job you applied for. I stayed there for five years. I recommend you say yes. You won’t regret it.’ And she disappeared down the platform, my concerns answered.
There’s a man in London who says there are predictable factors which govern these events. He has written a book about it. His name is David Hand and he’s a statistician.
Professor Hand might see Clare’s role in my job quest as part of a ‘law’, a beat in a rhythm of ‘random’ events. Rather than, say, the knot in a thread of which we see only part. A window held ajar, magnificent.
In his exploration of coincidence, Professor Hand tells a story about the actor, Antony Hopkins:
So, Anthony Hopkins was one of the stars in a film called “The Girl from Petrovka.” And he went to London to buy a copy of the book so that he could read about the character and so on. But he couldn’t find the book. None of the bookstores stocked it.
But then on his way home on the tube in London, he came across a copy of the book on the seat next to him. Absolutely incredible.
Later, when he met the author and told the author this story, the author told him that a year or so before he’d lost a copy of the book in London and it was a particular copy that he’d been annotating to change the English into American spellings and things like that, and he’d lost it on the Tube. And when Anthony Hopkins showed him the copy of the book that he’d found on the tube months later, it turned out to be exactly the same book.
So, somehow, this book had traveled through space and time in a loop, in a circle.
No matter where we stand, we tell stories – statisticians, romantics, pragmatists and notaries all have their angle – so long as we don’t mistake our viewpoint for objectivity.
Perhaps we should pay more attention to the stories we tell ourselves about the events that occur, for it is perfectly probable, statistically likely, even, that these tales frame the map of our lives.
Do you have a coincidence story? Or a comment? Feel free to write something below… 🙂
With thanks to maaco for the coffee photo and WNYC New York Public Radio Photostream for the picture of Anthony Hopkins: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
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6 thoughts on “A Hand in the Outcome”
This was a very fun read. I have several, but one short coincidence comment is I follow a couple of cat fostering profiles on Instagram. One of the recent series was a set of beautiful cats saved as kittens from…Oman! Seeing them made me do a little research about the country 🙂
Thank you. That’s a wonderful coincidence! There are a lot of cats in need of homes here in Oman…
Josephine, I love coincidences like those you describe. You may have read my recent post about Serendipity in which I tell this story:
. In college I’d read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” and was greatly impressed with its beautiful language. I never forgot Hopkins and years later (before Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble) I had the urge to read a book studying his imagery so that it might affect my imagery. Wherever I traveled—and I did extensively, big cities, small towns–I visited new and used bookstores and in every bookstore I browsed for such a book, but never found it.
Once I was to give a speech in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a small city in the western part of the state that I had never visited before. I discovered that the hotel I was to stay in had just been built and had opened its doors only a few days before. It had hosted a conference for fire fighters. The attendees had left just the day before. The event at which I was to speak came next. I arrived at midnight and was given the only available room. I laid my bags on the bed, and then noticed something in the trash basket. Apparently it had been left by one of the firefighters and the maid had overlooked it when she cleaned the room. There it was: a full-length book on the imagery of Gerard Manley Hopkins—another serendipitous event, the only available room, a fire fighter who liked Hopkins too, and a maid who’d forgotten about a trash basket.
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The set of events you describe is absolutely incredible David! I had missed that one on your blog. Thank you for sharing….
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