It has happened for me many many times. One minute I’m thinking about someone and the next that same someone just then calls me on my phone, on some occasions even shows up in front of me on the street I happen to be walking on. Once I was waiting at the bus stop and it was raining hard and for no reason I can think of, even now, a memory of somebody I knew suddenly popped into my mind. I’m reminded of the film Inception, it’s really not that dissimilar. And as I was looking out for the bus I saw someone a few feet away standing with their back to me wanting to cross the road. I’ve always been good with faces, and that day I realised I’m not bad with backs either. The person turned round and showed me the face that I had moments earlier pictured in my mind’s eye. We clocked each other and though they were surprised, I was flabbergasted. I blurted out with shock and wonder that I’d just been thinking about them and obviously they looked at me like I was a little crazy, it had after all been years since we last met.
I’ve often thought about that day and still haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable explanation. Perhaps that’s the thing, perhaps reason has nothing to do with it. Who can say what these accidents/coincidences are all about, if anything? I’m not even going to attempt to tackle that but I do think that there are times in life when a multitude of variables perfectly align with each other in such unison that for a fraction of a moment it enables an otherwise impossible encounter to take place. It is perfectly understandable then why we become a little obsessed with trying to figure out why it happened, what the purpose of it is and of course what does it all mean. It is difficult to accept coincidence without question, it begs the question especially when a series of unrelated incidents come together leading to a significant event, one that could not have taken place without any one of those little happenings along the way. A chain is created that links one thing to another to another and like two trapeze artists that must synchronise their catch down to the last second timing is the bond between them.
But timing is not everything. There are also the possibilities that arise from the interconnectedness of things, the idea that nothing in this world is completely independent of itself, that everything is linked to everything else across all the kingdoms i.e. human, animal, mineral etc. And viewed like this it is not so much of a coincidence at all.
“There is one common flow, one common breathing, all things are in sympathy. The whole organism and each one of its parts are working in conjunction for the same purpose.... the great principle extends to the extremist part, and from the extremist part it returns to the great principle, to the one nature, being and not-being”. (1)
This is not to say however that one event is the cause of another necessarily. When that instant memory of an old friend came into my mind it was not the memory itself that caused them to appear, like magic. I would venture a guess that it may have been the other way round; because they were close by that particular memory came to mind. There was a connection already in place which needed a few conditions to be met i.e. same time and place, before it could come to light in that specific moment. Connection is not the same as cause and therefore much trickier to make sense of and you can’t actually prove it the way you can with cause and effect. For example there’s no way I can ever really know that when I find myself thinking of someone they too are thinking of me, yet I’m sure of this connection because if we believe in the connectivity of the world then even our thoughts are never solely our own but always relational, whether the person in question is near to us or not. I say I can't really know this but in actual fact it gets proven time and time again with every text message I receive from someone that I was just about to text myself. That I was just thinking about you line we all commonly use is not just a nicety but echoes a shared truth that we are all the time thinking and feeling alongside each other.
That was my friend on the phone just now. She and I have been trying to have an overdue catch up conversation for weeks. I'd been thinking about her while writing this post wondering if today I'll catch her and we can finally have that talk. Further proof.
(1) Hippocrates, translated by John Precope in Hippocrates on Diet and Hygiene. London, 1952.