When I worked at a historical telegraph station in Alice Springs, Australia, my Canadian accent was a good conversation starter. As I sold souvenirs and passes to tour the station to the international tourists who came through, many asked where I was from. Few had ever heard of my hometown in Alberta, but I also enjoyed hearing where they were visiting from. One day, the hometown question made me think about random coincidences.
When I told one lady I was from Canada, she wanted to know where in Canada. I mentioned the city and she got excited, saying she was from a small town near there – in fact, the same small town I’d grown up in. We couldn’t believe that we were standing halfway around the world talking to someone from “home.” Sure, our “small town” has 10,000 people and we’d never met each other before, but we had that connection and the world felt a bit smaller.
It was a small thing, just a coincidence. But at a time when I was lonely and feeling far away from friends and family, that brief encounter made my day. I smiled whenever I thought about the lady from my hometown. I never saw her again, and maybe she doesn’t even remember the Canadian girl working at the tourist shop. But we never know how we affect the people around us.
I think about that once in a while – all the random coincidences, brief encounters, connections that we take for granted. Another blogger mentioned this, wondering why she writes and sings when nobody seems to care. Many responded to her post to say that we never know who we touch. We don’t see the difference that we make in other people’s lives. Particularly as writers, when we put something out in a book, a magazine, a blog, and never know how people respond to it. It may feel like nobody is reading it, when really it has made someone’s day.
A Story of a Coincidental Meeting
The road curves around through the cemetery, passes the Brick Clearance Centre and then runs straight on between some strip malls and condos. The pathway, frequented by cyclists, joggers, and dog walkers, crosses the road right between the Brick and the strip mall. Amber warning lights flash at the vehicles if the users of the pathway hit the big yellow button to cross the road.
It is remarkable to consider the coincidences, the exact timing of several events, to bring two people to that crossing, the figurative x on the map, at exactly the same time. If one of them had left work a little bit later, or if the elevator that either of them took had stopped at one more floor, they might have missed each other.
If he had had to wait behind several cars to get out of the parking garage, or if the traffic lights had been timed differently, he would have missed her.
If she had not biked quite as fast for that first block, or if she had had to wait at the pedestrian crossing instead of going right through, she would have missed him.
Either one of them could have also taken an alternate route and not seen each other. She had her set route home – up out of the garage, south down the alley to the road, through the intersection, then turn north on the pathway and follow it home, taking a detour through the shopping centre where the pathway disappeared, before rejoining it again by the brewery and then crossing the road at that fateful intersection.
He had a few more options, depending on what time he left work and where traffic was the worst, or how many errands he was running on the way home. That day, he choose the route that intersected with hers.
And so it was that at about 4:30 they each turned off their computers and caught the elevators downstairs to the parking garage. She hopped onto her bike, he into his car. They exited the parking garages, turned onto the streets, and began their usual trip home.
She shifted gears as she came up to the intersection, squeezed the brakes beside the post and punched the big yellow button. After glancing both ways to make sure the cars had stopped, she pushed her weight onto her pedal, starting across the intersection. Her eyes locked onto the small black car – a common car around the city, yet one that she always looked at twice, in case it was his. She caught sight of the familiar grey-and-white engineering hat.
Her hand came up, not in her usual thank-you wave to those who had stopped for her, but in an enthusiastic hello wave to him. He was checking his cell phone, and she was almost past him before he looked up, caught the wave, and nodded once. Then she was out of the intersection, traffic had moved on again, and the moment was over.
Coincidences or God’s Touch?
As a writer, I’m interested in stories. That moment on the bike stuck with me because I hadn’t talked to my dad in about five months—since I moved into my own apartment. (It also made me think of the coincident that ends the movie Stranger than Fiction.) We both worked downtown and his commute home took him right past my new apartment. Yet, because of circumstances surrounding my move, he hadn’t visited my apartment. I missed him, but I didn’t know how to span the gap between us.
I wondered if that meeting, that chance meeting, was a nudge. Should I call him? email? invite him over? Instead, I did nothing and let it be merely a random coincidence, soon forgotten.
As I think about Holy Week, I wonder about the stories around those events. I think about all the random coincidences and chance encounters that could have happened. The Bible only tells us about a few of the people Jesus met and touched – some blind men, a few lepers, Lazarus, Zacchaeus, etc. What about all the people not mentioned? What about the people who didn’t meet Him directly?
I wonder about those who stood in the crowd on Palm Sunday, screaming “hosannas” because everyone else was, hoping for a coming Messiah, seeing a Man passing on a donkey… how did they react? Did they go on with their daily duties or did something change for them?
I wonder about the people who saw Him teaching in the temple during the week. Did they think He was just another rabbi, and go on with their duties, or did they stop to listen to a few words, to think a bit more?
I wonder about the normal citizens of Jerusalem who saw three criminals dragged out to be crucified. Did they judge the criminals for their crimes, or did they notice anything different about the One crucified in the middle?
Maybe those people ignored what they had seen. Maybe they brushed it off as random coincidences. Or maybe they stopped to ask why they were standing in the crowd that day. Why they happened to see Jesus, even if only for a split second. There are random coincidences, like running into someone from your hometown on the other side of the world, that are truly random. And then there are random coincidences that seem more like divinely orchestrated God-moments.
As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” ~ Luke 8:42-48
There were millions of people in Jerusalem at that time. Jesus couldn’t touch them all. But I wonder how many little encounters – the kind we almost take for granted – made a difference in somebody’s life. Not the big, grand, raised-from-the-dead type of encounters we all want to see. But the little things. The way He looked at someone as He passed. A few words He said as He taught. Something they heard from their neighbor about Him.
Did they let those random coincidences change their lives, or did they brush it off and go on with their day?
What random coincidences have changed your life or made you think twice about something?