We keep stumbling upon random coincidences during this trip. We’ve met people who know friends of ours back in the U.S. and we’ve encountered the same traveling families multiple times along the way. Brian’s talked with a Cambodian woman living in his hometown of Indianapolis as he stood in her parents’ store in Siem Reap. We even met a Thai border control agent who was talking to her gentleman friend in Indiana after she processed our passports. However, none of these are more bizarre than the coincidence we recently experienced on a small quiet beach in New Zealand.
We’d driven the 15 minutes from Te Anau down to the tiny town of Manapouri, located at the edge of Fiordland National Park. We found a quiet beach where we stacked rocks into cairns, enjoyed the view and relaxed in the sun.
Shortly before we were planning to leave, a couple walked up and asked us if we knew anything about the trail running along the length of the beach. While we couldn’t be of much help, we started chatting with Park and Whitley and it turned out they were not only from the U.S. but also lived in Tennessee. When they heard we had just moved from Chattanooga, we learned Park had grown up there.
We thought that was a crazy coincidence in and of itself, but this is where it gets really weird. After a few more minutes of talking, Brian and Park realized they’d met before at Brian’s office building. Park’s business associate kept an office in the same small building as Brian. By chance, the two had spent about 15 minutes chatting in the hallway two years ago before Park had a meeting with his colleague. In fact, Park had told Whitley Brian looked familiar when they’d first seen us the day before boarding one of the boats going out onto Milford Sound. Just to give my husband a little ego boost, I’ll add that Park initially thought Brian might be a professional athlete since he looked so familiar. Unfortunately, killing time at work by chatting with random strangers in the hallway doesn’t qualify as a professional sport.
I think it’s crazy Brian and Park’s paths crossed twice in two days in a place over 8,000 miles from where they’d originally met. Weird…with a capital W. This whole experience begs the question, how often does this happen? How many times in life are we steps away from a person we’ve met before but don’t realize it? Or maybe there’s a stranger we keep crossing paths with again and again yet we never quite meet? In Fiji we met a couple from Sydney who’d met when they sat next to each other on a plane taking off out of London. During the long flight home to Australia they realized they lived on the same block in Sydney, frequented many of the same stores and restaurants and even had a number of mutual friends. It’s like the universe was saying, “Good grief! Come on, you two! What do I have to do to get you to notice each other? How about 12 hours sharing an armrest? Maybe that will work!”
It’s probably no coincidence that I recently opened a book in my Kindle app about this very topic – coincidences. I hadn’t read this book by Deepak Chopra in years, but somehow my fumbling with my phone had opened it up, so I spent a few minutes rereading parts of it. Deepak writes:
Can such moments be ascribed to mere coincidence? Of course they can, but on closer examination they can also prove to be glimpses of the miraculous. Each time we have an experience like these, we can choose to dismiss it as a random occurrence in a chaotic world, or we can recognize it for the potentially life-altering event it may prove to be. I do not believe in meaningless coincidences. I believe every coincidence is a message, a clue about a particular facet of our lives that requires our attention.
Yes, it gets a little deep, but it does make you think, doesn’t it? If we start being more aware of life’s coincidences, maybe they’ll lead to some very good things. Running into our fellow Tennesseans in a tiny New Zealand town led to a fun afternoon and good conversation. We wound up talking with them for several hours and migrating from the beach to a café. In the end, the experience made us appreciate those coincidences more. And it’s probably the last time in his life Brian will ever get mistaken for a professional athlete. Sorry, honey.