My last blog was about synchronicity and coincidence. I said that there were three categories that occur in our lives: people, cultural phenomena, and thoughts. And I went on to describe some of the people-related coincidental meetings that happen regularly in my life, and my husband’s.
So, okay, now here’s a sampling from the cultural category of coincidence. Or, as we like to call them, items for the “What Are The Odds? File.” Most of these alignments of cultural phenomena are random, and they never seem to involve either omens or significant messages “from beyond.” They’re just weird alignments of random information. But the question is — how does it happen?
Hardly a week goes by, that we don’t experience some culture-related coincidence phenomena. Here’s one. Recently, in a period of two days, I encountered three completely separate pieces of journalism about Forest Whitaker. (One in the AARP magazine, one in a PETA brochure, and I think the third was in the Screen Actors Guild magazine. None of them being remarkable places to find references to Mr. Whitaker — but for one person to see all three, in two days?)
Here’s another one. There’s a movie called Across the Universe. I never heard of it when it came out in ’07. But recently seeing a trailer for it on another DVD, I thought it looked interesting, so we put it on the Netflix queue. It came on August 6 (randomly, because it was behind a couple of “long wait” movies in the queue), and we watched it that night. On the morning of August 10, I opened the latest in an endless succession of Barnes and Noble emails, touting their latest bargains. Those included big discounts on a lot of movies. But they only put two box-cover images in that ad. And one was — yes — Across the Universe. A four year old film, and one that can’t have been a particularly big hit (or I would have heard of it, right?), and selected for featuring in the ad, from how many hundreds that were on sale? But for me, this one obscure film emerged from the nearly-numbing background static of contemporary life, twice in less than ninety-six hours.
You might say, well, it was a movie, and lots of movies have relatively high profiles. So, consider this next “coincident.” Over the past couple weeks, we’ve been re-watching A Bit of Fry and Laurie on DVD. I’ve also been re-reading Good Omens by Pratchett and Gaiman. Both decisions were random, and the pace of both watching and reading have also been quite irregular. There came an episode, when in one sketch, Stephen Fry mentioned the Essex town of Saffron Walden. The next day, I reached a page in Good Omens which had a throwaway joke, which also mentioned Saffron Walden! I mean, how many DVDs do we own? And how many books do we own? (Rhetorical questions — about three hundred and five hundred, respectively.) And of the DVDs, how many are we likely to re-watch, in , say, a year? (Thirty or forty, randomly chosen.) And how many books am I likely to re-read in that same year? (Five or six, also randomly chosen.) And of those two sets of selections, how many are likely to incorporate the name Saffron Walden, at all? So, what are the odds, that one unusual town name would show up in my conscious experience of the world, two days running?
Here’s one more – one that comes with music (we get those a lot, actually). We will go perhaps years without hearing or thinking of a particular song. Then it will turn up two or three times within a period ranging anywhere from a few days, to a couple of weeks. So, there was a moment a few months ago, when I turned on the Arts Channel, to find Anna Netrebko singing “O Mio Babbino Caro.” Not so strange. She sings a lot of opera. Except, I had never before seen Netrebko doing this aria. That very evening, I went to the Irish session night at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. And that night, a woman who had never been there before, and didn’t know any Irish songs, got up when called on, and — yes — sang “O Mio Babbino Caro.” And to top it off, her first name was Leslie, and she was sitting next to me all evening.
So — what about you, readers? I would love to hear about the Coincidence Factor in other people’s lives. Are there poeple whose “What Are The Odds? Files” are even fuller and stranger than ours? In particular, anyone named Ruth?
I would very much like to know if Ruth is out there.