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Strange Coincidences: Serendipity or Synchronicity?

People may experience unexplainable—and seemingly meaningful—coincidences.

Have you ever experienced unexplainable, even eerie, coincidental occurrences? If so, you are in good company: Life and history are replete with examples of strange but seemingly meaningful meetings, visions, and dreams.

Are these merely chance events, well within mathematical probabilities, or might they be due to some other (perhaps “other-worldly”) causes?

When my Ethiopian friend Menelik greeted me at the Addis Ababa airport, I was jet-lagged and exhausted. Sensing my condition, he took me to his favorite Ethiopian coffee shop, where the joe was terrific and gave me a needed lift. When I asked to purchase its unique mug as a souvenir, I was told it wasn’t for sale.

The cafe owner walked over and apologized for not selling the mug, and we seemed to hit it off as if we were old friends. (Coincidence #1). He told me he was originally from Toronto, where he had lived for 25 years, as did I in the same exact period. (Coincidence #2).

We had never met, were of considerably different ages, thousands of miles from Toronto, leading vastly different lives, yet we connected. (C #3).

He and I had both lived in the same close-knit neighborhood over that same quarter-century. (C #4), and he had attended the same high school during those years as my three sons. (C #5).

He fell in love with an Ethiopian woman in Toronto and they emigrated to Addis Ababa twenty-five years ago, just about the same time that I moved to San Diego, California. (C #6).

His surname was familiar to me, and it turned out that his father and I had been in the same kindergarten class in Montreal seventy-five years earlier. (C #7). We also attended the same elementary school, the same undergraduate school, and were in the same medical school class. (C’s # 8, 9, 10).

Our dispersed elementary school class had kept in touch over the years via letters and phone calls, and the shop owner’s father and I had seen each other just a few months earlier at a 67th class reunion in Montreal. (C #11).

Similarly, our Med school class had been in communication via the internet, and we two guys had a few weeks earlier attended our medical class’s 55th graduation reunion. (C #12).

Finally, he and I had been in touch about political and cultural issues over the last few years. (C #13). (Yes, his son gave me the coveted coffee mug!)

I found that entire episode magical and yet eerie. It lifted my spirits, but raised questions about strange coincidences and serendipitous events in our lives. How do these things happen?

The more rational among you might say I am hinting at some “force” causing a chance meeting which you see as nothing more than coincidence, with no need to invoke outside influences.

But what if I told you that other uncanny experiences have occurred in my lifetime?

I don’t frequent palm, tarot card or tea leaf readers, or any other fortune-tellers, but in Mumbai in 1989, I was urged by a respected family to visit a well-known astrologer. I did so somewhat reluctantly, and I daresay, cynically.

She knew nothing about me beforehand, yet her observations blew me away: She accurately described my history and current personal and professional situations. More remarkably, she predicted dramatic personal (divorce, remarriage, child), professional (major career move), and geographic (3,000 miles to another country) changes: All of these came to pass over the ensuing decade.

She also described aspects of a suggested pendant to protect my health and longevity (which I privately derided), but soon had designed and have worn daily for thirty years.

I’ve had other riveting coincidences which are seared into my conscious memory but I’m certainly not alone in having these strange encounters. Many people have had inexplicable, unforgettable, and meaningful experiences in their lives, sometimes pleasurably, others painfully. Perhaps you have been in circumstances which seemed weirdly personal, yet too profound to be purely by chance.

These unpredictable random occurrences raise provocative questions:

Is serendipity (chance, randomness, happenstance, fortuity) enough to explain these memorable experiences? Not always.

Is there such a phenomenon as synchronicity (fate, preordained, predetermined) which might play a role, or is this too airy-fairy to be mentioned, let alone considered? Perhaps.

Is there such a thing as “karmic reward,” or indeed, “karmic retribution” (or mystical, kabbalist, gnostic, etc)? Many believe this.

Are there people with preternatural gifts of extrasensory perception? Do some individuals have prescient dreams—not symbolic or metaphoric—but actually predictive of real events? It appears so. Are some people more prone to chance encounters or experiences? Possibly.

Might there be dimensions beyond our knowledge that circumvent the laws of physics, perception, and reality which can contribute to improbable experiences? There may be.

I am not alone in wondering about these existential conundrums: They have been voiced by people as diverse as astrophysicists and poets, believers and atheists, philosophers and seers.

They (and certainly I) don’t have the answers to these questions—do you?

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