Are coincidences spooky supernatural experiences, or just interesting accidents of timing and geography? I have noticed them all my life, but I’ve never tried to quantify or identify them in any organized way before.
It’s not too unusual to bump into friends in the neighborhood. I seemed to run into my friend Connie pretty regularly at the old garden shop that used to be in our neighborhood before it was razed a few years ago. Frequently, every couple of months, we see each other at the Gelson’s grocery at around five o’clock. My excuse is that I’d discover at the last minute that I was short one or two ingredients for dinner and have to zoom to the market on a mission. I was chugging along pushing my basket one time, and felt somebody’s hand in my pocket and screamed — it was Connie — she was sneaking up on me. A shopper who saw her thought she was trying to steal something from me, and laughed when we hugged each other.
But — is it less common to see friends on the freeway? There approximately 2,000 vehicles per hour (vph) per lane* in rush hour — cars full of strangers, and it seems unlikely that I would see anyone I recognize in one of the cars; but I have seen my daughter in her car on the 101 westbound, which is probably not too unusual because we live in the same neighborhood, except I didn’t know she was about to go out at the same time I was. One time I was on my way to work in the morning, and I was driving along from Studio City on the 134 eastbound toward Eagle Rock. I had the radio on, concentrating on not missing my off ramp, and didn’t notice right away that two guys in a truck next to me on the drivers’ side were yelling and waving “Hey Wendy!” They were my boyfriend’s nephew and godson on their way to a glass installation job, and they recognized me in my car on the freeway!
Another time, I was on the Hollywood freeway, 170 North, and the SUV in front of me had a familiar name stenciled on it, Sharp FX, our friend Nick’s special effects business, except Nick had been living in China for over a year. I called my boyfriend and told him I saw Nicky’s car, and that I think he’s back home.
I was resting on a bus bench with my friend Gilda when we were on a shopping trip along Melrose Avenue, a popular retail area. We were talking with each other, and enjoying peoplewatching. She was sitting turned toward me and I was facing the street, so I didn’t see the boys coming close when one of them leaned over the back of the bench to give me a hug and a kiss. It was my friend PJ… and I recognized him right away, but Gilda didn’t know him, and she thought he was trying to steal my purse. It seemed normal at the time, but as I look back on it, I go back and forth. I think that these experiences of bumping into friends in public, both in stores, on the sidewalk away from your normal neighborhood, seeing friends on the freeways, are worth counting to see just how unusual, or usual, they are.
Our paths cross by accidents of timing and geography — the phone rings and it’s someone you were talking about five minutes ago — but does that mean it can help you predict the future? Does that mean putting on the shirt you were wearing when you fell in love will bring back your long lost sweetheart? I can understand the surprising nature of unlikely circumstance — bumping into an old friend in a public place, or just noticing the wacky juxtaposition of a pattern of events that seem at once connected, and yet unrelated. Some people seem to have friends everywhere – can they be the hubs of the six degrees of separation — the people who can hand off a package, and through a series of only single friend-to-friend transitions, transmit it from New York City to a jungle settlement in Zaire? I believe it’s true. There are people who know more than the usual number of other people, and people who nurture loose friendships that are the fiber of such human networks as these seeming coincidences are made of.
But I also understand that there is a “bigger picture”; that once we stop thinking of ourselves as the center of the universe, that it would be ridiculous to think that it is unusual that our paths would not cross more than once, or only when we make and keep planned dates. That seems to be an exaggeration of our ability to control our environment, or maybe an expression of our need to control it. Seen in a context of the randomness, the stochasticity of all the possible experiences people can have, the tiny, random events that surprise us seem to be just failures of our own imagination, a misunderstanding of the depth of time and the size of the universe. I am not sure what the message is – except that I will probably bump into you soon!