My friend Jan and I, cozied up in blankies to warm up following the sailing trip.
Every day in the wee morning hours, I read in bed, while I drink my coffee.
This week, I’ve been reading about coincidences, because since moving to Halifax, it’s been one after the other.
Granted, some of the coincidences are quickly explained away. For example, consider the daisy chain phenomenon that every person I meet seems to know every person I meet.
Easy peasy. Halifax is a small, compact city, especially in the peninsula where I live. The hill and valley formations fold in such a way that they pitch people together to trip over one another, during attempts to get from A to B. Plus, because people from here never leave, most everyone is somehow remotely related.
It’s no wonder everyone I meet knows everyone I meet. I call this a first-degree coincidence.
Then there is what I call the second-degree coincidence, which isn’t quite as easily wrapped up in a tidy explanation. Say for example, what happened back in March.
My boss called me into his office to meet someone. Barely two minutes post hello and handshake, I found out the fellow, Andre, hailed from Sudbury.
A couple questions later, I learned his childhood best friend, Jack, grew up in Sudbury’s Carol Richard Park, which happened to be where I lived from ages five to thirteen, two provinces from Nova Scotia in place and four decades back in time. But wait for it… not only did I know Jack, of course, but his twin siblings, Darlene and Darryl, were both friend (Darlene) and foe (Darryl) to me throughout primary school.
What were the odds?
I wanted to know. So I started Googling, soon stumbling on a recent article in the The Atlantic, Coincidences and The Meaning of Life, by author Julie Beck. Beck tackles the relevance of coincidence, and I found a lofty quote to uphold my own belief system that with coincidences, “ the amazing thing is not that these things occur, it’s that we notice them.”
Because of course, I’m a noticer.
Okay. So day two into coincidence research, I realize I’m not the only one who ponders them, as evidenced by the plethora of articles and books I find, including soon to be published, Fluke: The math and myth of coincidence. It’s author, Joseph Mazur, examines the mathematical probability of coincidences.
Day two leaves me with two schools of thoughts regarding the occurrence of coincidence: Reason and Science. The two major camps, one set to demystify with logic and the other to explain via probability.
My wild goose chase then leads me to Professor David Spiegelhalter of Cambridge University and his coincidence website. Working with a team, he collects coincidence stories, shared by readers, categorizes them and fits them into a hierarchical chart based on frequency within each category.
Well, it turns out finding something in common with someone you meet is the most commonly occurring of coincidences. This “fact,”combined with Mazur’s number crunching, converting the improbable to the mathematical possible, perhaps didn’t explain why I crossed paths with Andre, but it did help me downgrade the coincidence from a fantastical happening.
But, back to Beck’s article. She quotes another coincidence expert, Bernard Beitman, who makes the point that “… probability is not enough when it comes to studying coincidences. Because statistics can describe what happens, but can’t explain it any further than chance,” and more so Beitman also says “I know there’s something more going on than what we pay attention to. Random is not enough of an explanation for me.”
Me either. Like Beitman, I’m hung up not on the how a coincidence happens, but the why, especially with the coincidence that happened last Saturday.
After more days than I cared to count, I woke up to find clouds and fog had packed their bags and gone on vacation through the night.
Outside, the sky was blue, crab apple trees in full blossom and the sun suspended up high. After the interminable cold of the last five months, I was grateful and appreciative to let the bright daffodil orb in the sky drain its warmth onto my winter-bleached skin.
And oh, it felt so good.
So, somehow, I’d ended up at the Royal Yacht Squadron on the afternoon of their opening season Regatta, though not because I am a sailor. Because I’m not. Yes, my dad always had boats, but there was never any of that “let me show you how to sail daughter” to teach me to recognize a jib from main or locate port and starboard. Really, all I came away with was the acute realization that big waves made me throw up.
Anyway, friend Jan, whom I hadn’t seen since before Christmas, had invited me to the club for a flower arrangement workshop. And in the spirit of always saying yes, I’d said yes, and so there I was, at the Yacht Club.
Jan and I were crammed in a tiny room with about twenty other women where, bit by bit, we learned how to clip and trim and stick flower blossoms and greenery into a water-soaked base to create a floral sailboat arrangement.
Two hours later, each of us having created a unique rendition of the flower project, albeit Jan’s definitely better than mine because I’d become hung up on detail, and by the time I went to add the flowers, they’d been grabbed, clipped and poked already.
Still early, Jan asked me if I’d like to kick around with her for the day for assorted Regatta festivities. Her partner, Les, was at the club, prepping their dry-docked sailboat to put in for another sailing season.
“Sure,” I said to Jan, and we strolled outside.
Looking around the marina, although a number of boats were still up on blocks beyond the docks, far more vessels were in the water than not. With the sound of waves gently lapping, we parked ourselves outside, to take in the sun and the view.
Being Halifax, however, meant almost June was still early days for spring, let alone summer. As though I needed physical evidence, the clouds moved in and the wind picked up. Jan and I started to shiver, and soon, I put on my sweater, and then my jean jacket.
And again, this being Halifax, I’ve learned to simply solider on, with minimal grumpiness regarding change in temperature because after all, I live by the sea.
“Do you want to take a walk along the dock?” Jan asked me, pulling me out of my thoughts and shivers.
“Sure,” I answered.
Walking along the dock, Jan pointed out different boats and indulged in random chit-chat with people she knew who walked by. But then, she stopped to chat up a woman and a man, on their way off the dock and into the clubhouse. Jan introduced me.
“Judy, this is Karalee.”
“Excuse me,” said Judy, “but is your name Karalee?”
Not an odd question. I have one of those unfamiliar names people seldom catch the first time. So I repeated it.
“How do you spell that?” Judy asked.
I spelled it out for her, “K-a-r-a-l-e-e.”
“What!” she said. “That’s my daughter’s name. I’ve heard the name the odd time, but I’ve never met anyone who spelled it the same way.”
At 55, I’ve run into two Karalee’s in my lifetime, neither of whom spelled it the same way either.
I was more than curious about where she got the name.
“Well,” Judy explained, “I was pregnant and reading a book and the heroine’s name Karalee.”
This is what runs through my mind before I can speak.
I was born on Sunday, January 29,1961. I don’t know how much I weighed or if I was on time, what the weather was like that day, or what my father said when he first saw me. I only know two things about my birth. Number one is that in spite of being born during the pass the forceps era when mothers were shaved down there and knocked out cold for the birth, my mother was awake for mine.
It’s number two that’s thrown me for a loop after talking to Jane, the origin of my name. My mother had been reading a book when she was pregnant with me, and she loved the heroine’s name. Yup. Karalee.
Back to my story… Here is what I said to Judy, when the memory back lets me go.
“What! That’s how I was named. I mean, that’s how my mother found my name. She was reading a book and Karalee was the heroine in it.”
And then, eager to solve the 55-year old mystery, I asked Judy, “She never could remember the name of it though. What it?”
“I don’t remember. But I think maybe it was one of those torrid ones, you know with the covers…”
“… with the bodice ripped?” I said, finishing her sentence.
She nodded, and we both laughed.
Later that Saturday evening, I was on the Philharmonica, a boat belonging to a friend of Jan and Les. We were sailing past McNabb’s Island, close to Shearwater and the Eastern Shore, on the Dartmouth side, to get a closer look at a US Military submarine, in the harbour for a commemoration on Monday.
It was even colder, and Jan and I were sitting up at the front of the sailboat, the jib full of, clapping above us.
Looking back at the Halifax harbor, the sharp edges of buildings and harsh glare of lights, beginning to flicker on as dusk encroached, were a little smudged as if someone had put a soft focus lens in front of my eyes.
While I made chit-chat, I thought of my meeting with Judy and felt the familiar tickle behind my eyes. But that evening, the wind helped me out by whisking away any inkling of tears before they had a second to collect and fall.
I study the coincidence commonality chart in the morning, putting a tick by the category where I think my strange coincidence fits. There are eleven categories, and when I am done, I count up seven ticks.
The complexity of the math boggles my mind, and I’ve no choice but to throw out any notion that I can rely on math or probability or anything I’ve read thus far to explain the name coincidence.
I throw off my bed sheets and slip into my running gear. Enough of this.
Maybe, I think during my fun, figuring out whether what happened was magic or myth might just be plain impossible. And anyway, I’ve gotten stuck on something Beck said, “…to explain why any individual coincidence happened involves a snarl of threads, of decisions and circumstances and chains of events that, even if one could untangle it, wouldn’t tell you anything about any other coincidence.”
Really, what I should be doing was to “…weigh whether it seems likelier that the event was caused by chance, or by something else. If chance is the winner, we dismiss it. If not, we’ve got a new hypothesis about how the world works.”
Okay then, so how does my world work, with my now ironclad belief that what happened in meeting Judy and what we shared occurred due to something other than chance?
When I am awake and have my coffee on my bedside table, I decide to do my morning coincidence search from a different angle, the theory of the phenomenon through a concept developed by Carl Jung, called synchronicity. I’d been to two workshops with now friend Donna Morrissey, based on Jung’s archetypes, and I love the way he organized the world and human behaviours. So probably, I might like what he had to say on synchronicity.
But besides that, wasn’t he the guy who said, “It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves.” Course on the other hand, didn’t he also say, “Show me a sane man and I will cure him for you.”
The short story… Carl Jung believed that coincidental events are meaningful coincidences if they occur without a causal relationship. Check, the name things had no causal relationship that could be explained, either reason or science. According to Jung, all I needed to do then was to figure out the meaning of the coincidence.
Right, then. My work was laid out before me.
Later in the day, I got a text from my son, asking me if I have an ending to my memoir.
Me – Sort of.
Graham – Was thinking, not sure if you were ever serious about it but it kinda seems the most appropriate ending would be meeting up with Grandma, try to make peace. Just a thought.
Me – Thanks for the thought sweetie. I will take it into consideration.
Graham – Nice! Might make for a pretty perfect ending I think.
Me – Point taken.
Thanks Graham. Thanks Jung. I think I might now be onto something.