“Coincidence? I think not!” is a cliché used to tease people deemed naïve, those who think every slight similarity is fraught with cosmic meaning.
And yet there are those times when something is so coincidental, we sense it really must mean something. Sometimes we figure out what that might be, other times we remain cluelessly curious.
Two cases in point:
I was directing my first one-act play “The Bespoke Overcoat” (based on a famous Nikolai Gogol story) about a tailor in the Jewish textile district of 1950s London; it was remarkably detailed, including the street address of the tailor’s shop. In the story, a ghost visits the tailor and demands the overcoat he ordered before he died; the afterlife is cold! It was a sweet little dramedy. Just one problem: the four characters spoke with distinctive Jewish Cockney accents. What the heck should that sound like?
I asked my teacher, Larry Moss, a renowned dialectician. Larry knew dozens of British accents, but not this one. Then he remembered an old English couple who’d retired to the Fairfax District, L.A.’s venerable Jewish community. He gave me their phone number.
“Of course, it would be luvly to meet yer,” said Alf and Ginny Singer. So we grabbed our tape recorder and piled into my car. Over tea, the adorable old Cockney couple asked, “So, ‘ow can we ‘elp yer?” After I told them about the play, the section of London, even the street address, they laughed: “Oy, yer ‘avin us on, roit?”
When I assured them we weren’t, Alf explained that he was, in fact, a retired tailor who’d owned a London tailor shop…the same year as the play…on the same street…at the address next door to our story’s tailor! The story was fictional. Alf had never met the playwright. And yet Alf basically was the main character of the story. “Coincidence? I think not!”
But what did it mean?
I have no idea.
Eight years later, I made a pilgrimage to L’Abri, a spiritual retreat center in a tiny village of 300 in the Swiss Alps. Running on financial fumes, I rented the cheapest accommodation available, one of half-a-dozen mattresses in the co-ed hayloft of a hillside pig farm. There was breathtaking scenery and, when the pigpen doors were opened, breathtaking scentery.
The first night I was there, I had a long talk with the girl on the mattress next to mine. She was the only other American there. Cool. Where from? California. Really? Me too! What town? Newport Beach. Me too!! Where in Newport? Her apartment was on the street next to mine. I could have thrown a rock at it from my bedroom window.
We talked nonstop for three days. No romance, just profoundly parallel spiritual journeys, doubts, longings, and discoveries. We laughed, prayed, and never saw one another again. “Coincidence? I think not!” Only in this case, I have a definite sense of what it meant…
And Who made it happen.