With the mixed blessing of a 10-day furlough from my job, I decided to spend a considerable chunk of my time off traveling. Two major airports, several trains and a few subway rides later, I got to wondering about chance encounters.
I'm not just talking about the semi-creepy classifieds on Craigslist, where people try in vain to find that guy or girl who sipped an extra foamy latte in the Mount Washington Starbucks on October 14. I'm much more interested in the people you sit next to on airplanes, who get a haircut at the adjacent station, who you share an eye roll with while waiting at the ATM. What keeps some of them limited to that brief smirky smile while others are catapulted into full-blown conversations or even real connections?
Full disclosure: I am the queen of the chance encounter. I have turned fellow line-standers into boyfriends (we were both buying flowers at Whole Foods en route to Passover seders) and have parlayed regular holiday meal coverage out of a women who was getting a pedicure as my nails dried. More than just my gift of gab writ large, I am confident there was some reason for why these otherwise mundane interactions became more meaningful and durable (though in the case of the boyfriend, I'm not sure how meaningful it was).
Fate and chaos theory seem generally at odds. One grants control of all human events to a higher power and the other denies any order but disorder itself. But in the case of shifting from total strangers to two people with a great "how we met" story, they both play a role. So too does that pernicious but undeniable force called timing. And its timing I believe in more than the hand of some invisible, manipulative god or a completely random universe. How else to explain the luck of sitting next to some great person during a long train ride? If either of you had been much earlier or later, you would have been stuck sitting next to that weird lady wearing a Santa Claus letter in April or, worse yet, not even sitting in the same car at all.
Powerful timing came into my life this past week, when a collection of high school classmates, long ago cast out of my mind, randomly appeared at the same bar as me on Saturday night. OK, they were actually there to meet one of my girlfriends who I knew to expect at that location, but you gotta admit the impromptu reunion factor is pretty random. Besides, timing played a big role in one particular alum and me hitting it off quite nicely.
I met my best friend from college at orientation and we connected instantly. Freshman year she lived off campus and we didn't see each other again until we both lived in the same 800-student dorm sophomore year. We crossed paths in the lobby while getting our mail and from then on we became incredibly close. Would that ever have happened had either of us gone to another orientation session or chosen to live elsewhere?
More than anything, I want to understand what was the glue that held that bond together and why was it so absent earlier today as I worked on this post, waiting for a delayed flight? Or all the other times in my life as I went through life anonymously. I don't really have the answer. But what I do know is when it happens, you have to jump on board the fate train because the trip is often as fun as the destination.