The difference between coincidence & serendipity, according to me...& how they can lead to crime.
The word 'serendipity' is a beauty coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole, [pictured] after the fairytale The Three Princes of Serendip, in which the heroes “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of.” More than this, I think serendipity depends on our mood being elevated & at one with the universe.
[While we are on the subject of words, my favorite is Space and another one of great beauty is Sublime, but the other day, it suddenly struck me as quite a strange word. While it sounds lovely & means soaring, transcendent, uplifting - but when you deconstruct the word there's a sub in there, 'sub -lime' meaning under the limit, rather than over & beyond it.
Sometimes it's not a good idea to think too hard about these things.]
But back to serendipity...my feeling is that when we are up we are more receptive to making connections & seeing the joy in how random events effect one - joyfully irrational evidence that all is not chaos & that a thread of magic weaves through the plot of our lives.
When we are blue we miss these things: our hearts tilt towards the pavement, we see the hole in our shoes rather than the comet in the sky.
Coincidences, unlike serendipity, arrive whatever our mood and don't necessarily good things.
Take for example a recent news item about Man A, whose hat was blew into the road. Being safety conscious he checked the road was completely clear in both directions, before stepping out...if he had looked up, he might have spotted the mini bar-sized fridge flying of a third floor window where morbidly obese Man B had decided to kick start a diet with drastic action. Being a good-ish citizen he had also waited for a gap in the traffic before taking out his troubles on his white goods. The fridge landed on Man A at the exact moment he reached the hat. So, a coincidence, but not a happy one.
Coincidences swirl round us like a thousand leaves in an autumn gale. We only notice the ones that actually blow into our open mouths. It's as if they are constantly straying into our lives from across the porous membrane of a parallel universe, a universe where normal rules of odds & likelihood have no foothold... like when you squeeze a lemon & a stray squirt - that could have taken frankly any trajectory - heads straight to the bullseye of a tiny target:
A few weeks ago I wrote in my blog [16/8/09] about the coincidence of when my ex-husband & war reporter Nick della Casa were arrested in the wilds of Northern Kenya & the young army commander who interrogated them turned out to have studied Nick for his political science degree at university, because Nick had previously been held as a hostage in Mozambique for eighteen months & Kenyan diplomats had assisted in his release. While this was good news because they suddenly had a personal connection with the army commander it was trouble too, because their story that they were 'just there on safari', no longer had any credibility & they were slung in jail. An example of a contradictory coincidence.
Two weeks ago on my birthday - actually, because of my birthday - it felt like I'd got caught up in a threshing machine of coincidences...
I met up for birthday lunch with my girlfriend Mad, who was paying a rare visit from Spain. After we had eaten, I headed back to my studio and we kissed goodbye on the corner of Ledbury Road & Westbourne Grove. As I set off down Ledbury, [incident happened a few feet from shop pictured] she called after me with one last 'Happy Birthday'. A woman, who had just overtaken me, turned back & said, 'It's my birthday too.'
I said in a stage whisper that I was turning fifty. [Dont. Say. Anything.]
She stopped & said. 'Me too.' So we hugged and congratulated each other. She asked my name, I told her & she said, 'I've heard of you, aren't you a writer?' I said, yes. 'I am too' she said, 'I'm mostly a journalist but I'm trying to write a memoir.'
'Well I'm the same: journalism as bread and butter - although doesn't seem to be any butter at the moment & my book is a memoir.'
'Where d'you come in your family?' she asked.
'Second.' I said.
'Me too. Where do you live?'
'Me too.' It turned out we live two streets apart.
'Have you got children?' she asked.
'Two' I said.
'Me too' she said.
'Which makes us average, but maybe they're birthday twins too.' While not being exact, they turned out to be close enough to stay within the vibe of weirdness; with 365 to choose from, one is only 5 days after my daughter, the other 9 after my son.
We exchanged numbers & week later she rang & asked me round to her house.
Sitting in her study, I noticed a painting on her wall. It was by my great friend, the painter Sarah Stitt, who I shared a studio with until three years ago, before she cruelly abandoned me for LA.
It turned out Birthday Twin was not only a collector of Sarah's art [pictured] , but considered her a friend & had just emailed her, as I had too, just before leaving my house.
When I replied to her question of who I had been married to, she shrieked. It turns out that she is my ex's eldest brother's wife's estranged stepsister.
Maybe the only odd thing is that we've lived for fifty years & never met before, but I started feeling distinctly weird.
I'm not superstitious, I don't think walking under a ladder is unlucky, nor passing black cat; I don't believe in going back to bed on seeing a magpie. I can say the word Macbeth in a theatre & often do.
I don't believe in horoscopes: I cannot believe constellations that make up a rubbish picture of a crab or a goat, (but in reality are stars billions of light years apart) can effect your personality, I really don't.
I don't believe in fairies, elves, ghosts or witches, or any sort of gods, the afterlife, reincarnation or the evil vested in the number 13 but....I didn't dare be asked, or ask Birthday Twin any more questions. One more coincidence & I was going to become hysterical. I made my excuses & returned home feeling...well...call it a failure of imagination, but to be honest... the feeling was that I might have to kill her.
I made a cup of tea, kicked off my shoes, checked in the mirror to see if it reflected my face or hers and then coolapsed on the sofa & turned on the tv. It was CSI Miami, now that is serendipity.