Coincidental Coincidences

October 15, 2010

Why does the mind, acting independently of its owner, insist on attaching significance to coincidences for which chance is the only plausible explanation? Or if not attaching significance, then automatically sketching out possible narratives that have no basis in fact?

These questions and many others linger after a day of coincidences. First up: Driving to an appointment yesterday, I listened to Terry Gross interview actor and comedian Denis Leary on NPR. The news, he said, produces a treasure trove of material for jokes. Example: Heather Mills’ allegations during her divorce from Paul McCartney that the former Beatle didn’t accommodate her special needs as a leg amputee. Taking this in, I look up and see the Oregon Artificial Limb Co., established in 1906. What are the chances? This must mean something — for me. But what? And off the mind goes. . .

Later, I was walking several blocks from my house and passed an intersection with an odd juxtaposition of businesses: a liquor store, an adjoining low-budget funeral home, and across the street a building where I had long assumed abortions were performed. Such services offered within remarkably close proximity had always struck me as having some broad message about life and death. But what? Or was the juxtaposition merely an accident of zoning or vagaries of the rental market? At home I decided to learn more about the Pregnancy Resource Center. It turns out that abortions aren’t performed there. In fact, the enterprise tries to persuade young women not to have abortions.

I know better than to make assumptions. The danger was drilled into me as a young journalist. I drilled it into many a reporter. My violation of that cardinal rule still nagged at me even later yesterday while walking a block from the Pregnancy Resource Center. Atop a low wall along a Safeway parking lot, I spotted a hardcover book. The title came into view: Holy Bible. The book looked thin, and I opened the cover. All the pages had been torn out.

With religion permeating the abortion debate, the presence of an empty Bible so near a place where I had believed abortions were performed only means something if I manufacture the connection. Right? That was my first thought. But other questions drowned it out: Where did the Bible pages end up? Who tore them out and for what reason? What does it symbolize? Could it have been a young pregnant woman who sought counseling at the building a block away? So many uninvited questions made me want to head to the liquor store.

None of this means anything other than illustrating the human propensity to make sense of a chaotic world. Randomness is, well, random. Correct? Or is Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity at play? Am I missing other connections that could illuminate a more complex reality than what I perceive? In the linked article about Jung, I found mention of a book, The Waking Dream: Unlocking the Symbolic Language of Our Lives. Author Ray Grasse wrote: ” . . . the occasional dramatic coincidence is only the tip of a larger iceberg of meaning that underlies our lives.”

Yesterday’s events and observations, coupled with today’s digestion of them, leads where I don’t know. One certainty emerged: it was the right call not to don ear buds and listen to music as I walked. I was connected not to my iPhone but the world.