I heard the following story in a pub in Exeter, England, in 1999:
At the time, I was only one Guinness down, but the elderly gentleman who told the story had downed a couple of pints before I arrived. This fact is my only disclaimer regarding the veracity of his story.
He garnered a palpable sense of respect in that establishment, and I suspect this was so wherever he ventured.
The dignified veteran of World War II, an RAF pilot no less, had an air of integrity about him that was obvious to all of the pub’s patrons. That afternoon, the men and women in the pub immediately stopped their banter and gave full ear to what he had to say.
This is his story:
Sometime before Great Britain entered World War II, a friendship developed between a Brit and an American. Each worked for a company that conducted business with the other.
Their paths would frequently cross at meetings in New York or London and product quality inspections at company facilities. The two quickly became friends, followed by vacations with their families in both the U.K. and America.
Even the war did not hinder their relationship, although travel back and forth during that period was not possible. When the war was over, their companies were no longer doing business with each other. Still, they continued their personal relationship, primarily by letter.
In the early 1950s, the American suddenly stopped hearing from his friend in the U.K. Attempts to contact his friend’s family in London were unsuccessful. Finally, he reached out to his friend’s employer and was told that he had passed away after a short bout with an aggressive form of cancer.
The American was understandably hurt that he was not informed of his friend’s plight. But, he thought, perhaps this was all part and parcel of the British adherence to always maintaining a stiff upper lip.
After all, these were the people who suffered through the Blitz without so much as a whimper.
In the early 1960s, the American was nearing retirement when his employer resumed business with the London-based company. Shortly thereafter, he was sent over for a meeting to reestablish ties and resume trade.
He checked into one of London’s oldest and grandest hotels and prepared to shower after the six-hour flight from New York City. As was his habit, he removed his watch and wedding ring and set them on the dresser.
To his dismay, the ring rolled across the glass top and plunged down behind the massive Baroque dresser. He attempted to move the piece of furniture away from the wall, but it was too heavy.
After a call to room service explaining his predicament, two men from the maintenance staff showed up. It took some effort, but they finally managed to get one side of the dresser a foot or so out from the wall.
One of the men pulled a torch (flashlight) from his back pocket and shortly reported several items were behind the dresser. And, he said, he could see a wedding band.
Leaning over the dresser and extending his right arm, he retrieved the ring and handed it to the pleased American. Returning to his task, he started pulling up other items.
Clearly, the old tank of a dresser had not been moved in years, possibly decades.
After an earring, two fountain pens, and a bow tie were piled on the dresser top, the maintenance man laid a letter face-up beside the other items.
You can imagine the shock and surprise when the Yank saw his name and address on the yellowed envelope. Picking the letter up and turning it over, he saw that the return address was his friend who had died some 10 years previous.
After the hotel staff members left his room, he sat on the edge of his bed and read the letter that was never posted. In the letter, his friend told him that his days were numbered and assured him that their friendship was of great value to him.
According to the old gentleman telling the story, the hotel records showed that the American’s friend had stayed in that very room.
And although they never saw each other again, the letter finally made its way to the American. And, in doing so, gave closure to the loss of a beautiful friendship.
These experiences are not uncommon. But are they always just a product of random chance? Is it possible that Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity is at play in our lives?
Jung felt that synchronicity, as opposed to mere coincidence, is acausal. He thought that a series of events that may be explained statistically may also be meaningful to an individual in a way that goes beyond chance.
Furthermore, Jung maintained that we should make a practice of being aware of synchronous events.
It is essential to point out that mainstream science has never fully embraced such concepts. Although Albert Einstein, in a series of dinner conversations with Jung starting in 1909, was thought to demonstrate some amiability toward the idea of synchronicity.
In my opinion, the meaning of coincidences, if anything, is ultimately up to the one who had the experience.
What follows are coincidences generously shared by readers:
Vicky Terry first met Kathy Henry right here in Pocahontas County.
“We were both born at Fort Dix in the army hospital, in 1956. And, we both ended up moving to West Virginia and working in the Pocahontas County Free library system.” Vicky said.
Nick Brash, formerly of West Virginia, tells of his coincidence on a trip to Arizona.
“I was visiting my wife’s brother out in Arizona a while back and my daughter was only three years old at the time. We were all at the state fairgrounds in Albuquerque because my mother-in-law wanted to see the artwork there.
“My father-in-law and I were walking around with the two kids, drinking a beer and having a conversation. I told him I had a cousin living in Albuquerque that I hadn’t seen in years.
“He said why don’t you give him a call and maybe they can come over to his son’s house for a cookout. I said, ‘Sure I’d like to do that.’
“I had just crushed my paper cup and tossed it into the trash and turned around and there stood my cousin. Wow, running into him within seconds of saying his name in a city of half a million. What are the chances of that?”
Larry Simonetti, of Akron, Ohio, now a retired DNR officer, submitted this coincidence that happened in Hawaii.
“In 1990 my wife and I went to Hawaii. Two years before, I taught a class at the Coast Guard training facility in Yorktown for state marine patrols. There was a guy there from the Big Island. When we got to the Island I planned on looking him up.
We had rented a condo so we’re at the grocery store buying stuff for breakfast and lunch and I hear someone yell, “Hey, what are you doing here?” Sure enough, it was him. It worked out great because he got us on the tourist submarine for $10 apiece.”
Author’s note: And the Big Island really is a “big” island.
This next coincidence comes from our own Jaynell Graham and happened while vacationing in Maine.
“Several years ago, we went to Maine on vacation. We made a stop at a restaurant/bar – I think it was called the Black Bear. I suggested we eat at the bar so we, or I, could talk to some of the folks there.
“A man sat down beside me, and I asked if he was from Maine, and he was. I asked where people from Maine went on vacation, and he said he had just returned from Ireland and Scotland.
“So, I asked what he did in Maine, and he said he gave windjammer cruises. Then he asked if I collected the state quarters. I told him I didn’t, but my nephews did.
“He said his windjammer was on the back of the Maine quarter.
“We returned to our B&B and found that the owner’s mother had arrived for a visit. I told them about my conversation with this man, and the mother asked, ‘Was it Captain Kip Files?”‘
“I said, as a matter of fact it was, and she said, ‘Oh, yes. I was on the committee that chose his windjammer for the back of the quarter.’
“The Saturday after we returned home, I was flipping through the TV channels and there was a show called, “How It’s Made” or something like that. Never saw it before or since. But, that episode was about making the state quarters and the quarter they were producing during that episode was, of course – the Maine quarter.”
Many thanks to all who shared their coincidences. And, a special thanks to Mark Reed, whose fascinating dispatches from the road while bicycling coast to coast, aroused my own interest in synchronicity.
Until next week,