September 16, 2020
Ian Fleming divided his 7th James Bond novel, Goldfinger, into three parts: “Happenstance,” “Coincidence,” and “Enemy Action.” Three times Bond intervened in Auric Goldfinger’s diabolical plans to enrich himself, and after the third time, Goldfinger had had enough. He seized 007.
“Mr. Bond,” Goldfinger said, “they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.’”
Coincidences startle us. Two people discover that they have the same birthday, or they enjoy an unplanned meeting in a distant city, or they feel as if they have already experienced a present situation.
For example, in my ninth grade math class, our teacher asked each of us to say aloud the month and day of our birth. We discovered that I and another boy shared a day in September, two other boys shared a day in March, and our teacher and a girl shared a day. Three matches in a class of 30 students.
Julie Beck, in her article Coincidences and the Meaning of Life, dated February 23, 2016, said, “The question is how many people need to be in a room before there’s a 50/50 chance that two of them will share the same birthday. The answer is 23.”
John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both shared a death-day. Both died on July 4, 1826, on the 50th anniversary of their vote in Congress to approve Jefferson’s written Declaration of Independence.
A girl I know, and am most fond of, was born on September 9, 1990, thirty years ago this month. When she turned 9, the day was 9-9-99.
Three, almost four, years ago, in January of 2016, my wife and I were in Denver celebrating her birthday with our daughter and her boyfriend. We were riding a bus on the 16th Street Mall, when a random guy struck up a conversation with us.
Mr. Random looked at the boyfriend, and said, “I can guess the month and day of your birth.” “Oh!” Mr. Random first guessed November, and that was right. Then, he guessed the 17th, and again he was right. I am still wondering how Mr. Random performed that magic trick. Just two lucky guesses?
It is startling though when two people happen to meet each other in a distant city, without either knowing that the other would visit that city at that time, then.
Julie Beck says, “When you consider all the people you know and all the places you go and all the places they go, chances are good that you’ll run into someone you know, somewhere, at some point.”
For example, the last time I was walking around Disneyland, I happened to see a lady I know from Sidney, Nebraska. Of all the people milling around there, I saw her. Surprise!
Another example. Years ago, in December, my wife and I were enjoying the sights and sounds in a cold New York City. After a guided bicycle tour of Central Park, and to warm ourselves, we bought admission tickets to the Museum of Natural History, across the street from Central Park.
There, on the first floor, I looked across and through the mass of people and saw my wife’s cousin, Darrell, from Akron, Colorado, along with his wife and daughter. They looked at us. We looked at them. He said, “You’ve got to be kidding!” Each of us felt the jolt of surprise that connected us.
Harold Bloom, Yale’s onetime preeminent literary critic, now deceased, loved a quote from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale,” who said, “It is a good thing for a man to bear himself with equanimity, for one is constantly keeping appointments that one never made.”
Yes, we keep appointments, both kinds: those that we never made, and those that we have made.
School, in one style or another, has now resumed. A student can read and read and read, or not.
Those who are determined to prepare themselves today with a superior education are making an appointment with a better version of themselves, far into the future. They feel that jolt of surprise when they connect ideas, thoughts, words, writers, and characters, all through reading and listening.
Those who fail to prepare themselves for that appointment with their future self are making an appointment with disappointment and disillusion.
General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, “You can either exercise self-discipline now, or you can suffer regrets later.”
One last story. In early September of 1972, I begged time off drilling wheat for a neighbor on the Saturday before Labor Day, in order to attend a church camp that weekend in the mountains. There, I met lots of young people, like myself, about to start college that fall.
Eleven years later, in 1983, I attended a singles club meeting, and there I met a girl who I learned had attended that same church camp eleven years before. Back then though, she was young, only 14, and was there to help the cook that weekend, washing dishes, wiping down tables. I remembered her.
In September of 1986, I married her.