tan colored, spiral shell with a blue backgroundHave you ever watched a movie follow multiple characters over a period of time as they unknowingly weave in and out of each others lives before fate brings them together at the end? Critics grumble these movies are unrealistic, their depiction of life contrived and chocked full of coincidences. But all movies are contrived to a degree, cinematic reveals of meaningful scenes yanked from real life but with all the boring parts left out thankfully.

Critics be damned.

I’m convinced those coincidental events happen often. 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 shared laughs looking over old photos of him, ones taken before they met. Sifting through them, one caught her eye. In it, he sat on a bench inside the city mall. Shoppers milled behind him as the photographer snapped the shot. My friend’s heart raced when she spotted herself passing behind him in the crowd. At that time, she and her future husband didn’t 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 have never known they were mere feet apart, years before they met face-to-face. Who knows if they had other near misses over the years. I bet they did.

One coincidence I’m still pondering happened almost two years ago. My wife and I took a 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 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. 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 were already seated, both near our group’s ages. We had spoken to one of the couples briefly over the course of the week, but the conversation had been brief. The other husband and wife were new to the resort, having arrived a day 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.

As the exchange tapered, I asked the other couple where they lived.

“We live in Greensboro, North Carolina,” the wife said, the same town my wife and I live in.

All eyes widened yet again as another round of furious conversation erupted. We even determined that the wife’s close friend had taken my wife’s group exercise classes often.

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 until another event brought it to mind.

A month ago, my brother’s neighbors had a small gathering 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 my wife and I were members. Over the summer we came to know them better and enjoyed hanging out with them.

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

“What color was your Explorer,” he said.

“White,” Amy replied.

“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 right before questions started flying. 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 had a feeling he knew Amy when they had met, but dismissed it when he couldn’t figure it out. 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? 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.

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