Have you ever watched a movie that follows multiple characters over a period of time as they unknowingly weave in and out of each others lives? Then fate brings them together near the end? Critics grumble that these movies are unrealistic, their depiction of life contrived and too chocked full of coincidences. But aren’t all movies contrived to a degree, a cinematic reveal of meaningful events using elements yanked from real life but with all the boring parts left out?

Critics be damned. I’m convinced those coincidental events happen frequently; we just don’t recognize them. Film cameras don’t follow us around to capture every wide-angle moment as life flows past us in a river of unknown individuals, some who return later to become meaningful in our lives. Sometimes we know the significance of the coincidences, sometimes we don’t. But something is behind them all.

Years ago, a friend of mine and her husband had some laughs looking over old photos of him, ones taken before they met. Sifting through them, one caught her eye. In it, he stood inside the city mall. Shoppers milled behind him as the photographer snapped the shot. My friend’s heart raced when she spotted herself passing in the crowd. At that time, she and her future husband didn’t even live in the same town. Her home was nearly an hour away. Had the photographer snapped that photo five seconds before or after, they would never have known they were mere feet apart, years before they met face-to-face. Who knows if they had other near misses over the years.

One coincidence I’m still trying to figure out is an event that happened almost two years ago. Susan and I took an anniversary vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica. Most of the crowd was older, so we were happy to meet and become friends with a great couple close to our ages. They were from Minot, North Dakota, a long way from our home in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Near the end of the week, the resort had an evening buffet and unlike the previous dinners, this one seated everyone in random groups so the vacationers could meet new people. The host guided the four of us to a table of eight. Two other couples, both near our group’s ages, were already seated. We had spoken to one of the couples briefly over the course of the week, but we’d never asked where they were from. The other husband and wife were new to us, having arrived a day or so before.

I’m the conversation instigator, so I asked the other couples where they lived. All eyes widened when the first couple replied, “Minot, North Dakota.” A flurry of conversation followed, our friends and this couple exchanging info about Minot trying to figure out if they’d ever run into one another.

“Quite the coincidence,” I said as their exchange tapered. “Where do you guys live?” I asked, turning to the other couple at the table.

“We live in Greensboro, North Carolina.”

All eyes widened yet again as another round of furious conversation erupted. We even determined that the woman’s close friend loved to take one of Susan’s group exercise classes.

How do four couples travel such a long distance independently, only to get randomly seated at a table together to find they are from the same respective cities? A friend of mine pointed out later that maybe the host who seated us knew where everyone lived. “No way,” I told him. “They didn’t ask for room numbers or our names. Nothing could have keyed the host in to where any of us lived.”

I hadn’t thought of that Jamaica encounter for a long time, not until another event brought it to mind.

A month ago, my brother’s neighbors had a small get together and invited us as well. Walter and Lindsay—my brother and his wife—and Scott and Amy, who opened their house to us, had all been members of the same pool where Susan and I were members. Over the summer we came to know them better and enjoyed their company.

After dinner the kids played together in the next room as the adults sat around the dinner table. Conversations flowed: stories, laughter, more stories, then for some reason we started discussing that nightmare vehicle that everyone seems to own at least once in their lives, the clunker that needs constant repair. As Amy revealed that her’s had been a Ford Explorer, Walter’s brow furrowed as he cut his eyes toward Amy next to him.

“What color was your Explorer,” he said.

“White,” Amy replied. “Why?”

“Did you ever run out of gas at the corner of Westover and Green Valley?”

Her head tilted. “How’d you know?”

“I was the guy who drove you to the gas station!”

“Shut up!” Amy shot back.

“We don’t say, ‘Shut up,’ Mommy,” shot a small voice from the next room.

Everyone at the table erupted in laughter, but then questions started flying from everyone. Amy had run out of gas over seven years ago, well before she and Scott had met Walter and Lindsay as neighbors. Walter and I worked together then, so once Walter connected the dots, I remembered Amy as well. My office was next to Walter’s, which was next to the main entrance where Amy had walked in to ask for help. Walter drove her to the gas station and then came back with a can and poured gas into her vehicle.

Afterward, I thought about how the clunker conversation led to the revelation that Walter and Amy’s paths had crossed in a semi-significant way so many years before they “met” as neighbors. For most, I’m not sure the mention of a car type would jog a seven year-old memory the way it did for Walter. But he’s a car guy. Has always loved them and with one glance can tell you the exact make and model, often down to the year. He’d thought Amy looked familiar when they had met, but not until he paired her with the Ford Explorer, did the full memory return.

How often does this happen but we aren’t aware of it? Again, I’m convinced it happens a lot. Maybe those reading this can shed some light: if you’ve had a similar occurrence, please share it with the rest of us in the comments below. Perhaps we can prove it’s more common than most realize.