One of the cardinal rules of fiction writing is: do not use coincidence to solve a a character’s problem.
When coincidence is used in this way, readers feel manipulated–(which writers do all the time. The point is for the reader not to notice.)
Used cleverly, however, coincidence in fiction can set off a chain of events and deepen the meaning of the story.
But what about in real life? Do coincidences have meaning?
The answer depends somewhat on your life outlook. Do you see the universe as a series of random events with no inherent connection? Do you seek scientific explanations for improbable events?
Or, do you believe some things are fated ? Maybe you subscribe to the notion that “everything happens for a reason”? Perhaps you see Divine intervention in some coincidences.
You run into your former lover in a city you both have never been ten years after your parting with no contact in between. Each of you say you were thinking of the other in the past month.
Psychologist Carl Jung called these kind of events “synchronicities”, surprising juxtapositions that scientific rationale can’t explain. The word synchronicity means “together in time” and suggests an underlying order to our reality. A connection between everyone and every living thing.
Jung saw synchronicities as a tool toward personal growth and meaning-making.
Just as we can derive meaning from reading a novel we know isn’t real, I think life’s coincidences can offer meaning, as well. Synchronicities evoke wonder and amazement. They remind us of life’s mystery.
The stranger or more improbable the coincidence, the greater our astonishment.
A common category of coincidences is finding an uncanny connection with a person you meet.
On a recent flight from Boston to Chicago, the woman sitting beside me, to whom I hadn’t said a word the whole flight, asked me if the American Airlines terminal was very busy.
“Oh, you’re not from Chicago?” I asked.
“No, just getting a connecting flight.”
I offered a few tips for navigating the O’Hare terminal. “Where are you headed?” I asked.
I smiled. “That’s where I grew up.”
What ensued was an enjoyable conversation with my seat mate.
We discovered that she and I had grown up in the same city just a mile apart. We’d both taken ice skating lessons at the same arena. We were both from large families and now had daughters the same age. We both had family still living in the area.
This in itself isn’t so incredible. What struck me is that the only reason we’d met is because I had taken the wrong seat.
The woman who was assigned 22F told me not to bother moving. She was fine with taking 22A across the aisle.
While I’m usually friendly and enjoy meeting new people, when on “airplane mode” I’m either white-knuckling through turbulence with music piping in my ears, or busy working on my laptop.
Add a mask to the above mix and you might call me an anti-social flyer.
Once inside the airport, Lauren and I each unmasked to reveal our smiles. Then we exchanged contact info.
And the lesson from this coincidence?
Talk to people! Some strangers turn out to be friends you’ve not yet met.