There is a girl from my university – I do not know her name – who I see absolutely everywhere. In the grocery store in the 16th arrondissement of Paris, at a bar in Bastille, at the gym at Republique. We have no friends in common (that I know of) and we have never actually spoken, yet this random person seems to have an inextricable link to my existence. But why? What is this driving force that has pushed us into the same space at the same time repeatedly? Is it the world telling us we simply must meet and now, or just that little thing we call “happenstance?”
It seems that more and more, I am having these “Wow, small world!” moments. Often, there is no more rhyme or reason for these fateful meetings than there is for Sarah Palin to have ever considered running for US president.
As the global population expands to its breaking point, with a seven billionth person landing on the planet a few weeks ago, I find no fewer connections between people in my life. Perhaps with all the extra humans on earth, we are being pushed ever closer by some cosmic force. Maybe globalization has gotten the last laugh. The more we spread out across the globe – for work, love or the promise of adventure – the more we are connected in miniscule, haphazard ways.
But what does it mean? Or does it mean nothing? As a regular tarot card reader and astrology nut, I find myself placing meaning on situations when it is convenient, or fitting. That girl from university I see everywhere? Must just be random. But the dashing blond man I see everywhere from the Gambetta metro station to the Monoprix at Opera? We simply must be destined to be together.
This is what psychologists refer to as “confirmation bias.” It’s the tendency to search for or interpret new information in a way that confirms our preconceptions, but avoids information and interpretations that might contradict our prior beliefs.
Yet I am not the only one fostering meaning into these ephemeral meetings. I still remember the time I saw an old friend in a shoe store in Paris. We hadn’t seen each other for years and it just so happened, he was leaving for India indefinitely the next day. We stood there staring dumbfounded at each other for five minutes until the storeowner kindly asked me if I was actually going to buy the shoe still stuck on my foot. As my friend and I parted ways that evening, he said, “Don’t you think this means something?” Fully knowing his romantic feelings for me and my platonic ones for him, all I could utter was, “No, not really.”
But even I couldn’t believe that statement. Everything means something. We would not be here, in this place where we’re standing, without all the little experiences before, now, everywhere. Without every moment, person met, job taken or love lost, I would not be everything that I am right now.
Yet, I’m still not convinced. There must be some better, more concrete explanation.
My friend’s father, a religious Jew, would undoubtedly respond to situations like the ones I’ve explained with, “Is it odd, or is it God?” Indeed, a more religious person than I would equate these random experiences with makings of a higher power; of a God who is trying to teach me something with every person met, every connection made. But isn’t that taking the easy way out? Explaining the unexplained by something I can’t tangibly construct doesn’t necessarily help me understand why I seem to be connected to some people more than others, or why those connections can fluctuate between strong (to the point of scary) to non-existent.
A couple of years ago, an ex-boyfriend and I seemed to be banded together like white on rice. However you want to explain it – the planets aligned, it was fate, destiny, whatever – our paths seemed to cross whether we liked it or not. And then one day, the connection broke like a flimsy thread. Without warning, that link was gone, dead, never to be revived again. Maybe there’s no reason for any of this, maybe I’ve looked far too long and hard into the matter. Or maybe the I Ching can explain.
The ancient Chinese texts use a complex set of 64 hexagrams that show how energy flows throughout a situation, and its answers are extremely sensitive to the nuances of human interaction. For many, an I Ching reading can provide guidance on how to proceed during difficult times or even a glimpse into the future. By the tossing of three coins, an I Ching prophecy could explain the probability of why people cross paths at certain moments in life.
Then there is the theory of “synchronicity” by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung. In the 1920s, Jung first coined the term to describe what he called “temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events,” or in other words, “meaningful coincidence.” Synchronicity can describe the governing dynamic that underlies human experience and leads to our collective unconscious. Under this logic, events that are seemingly unlikely to occur together by chance may occur together in a meaningful manner.
So maybe there is some reason this random girl and I keep crossing. Up until now, I’ve been too lazy or scared to bridge the gap and actually ask her her name, where she is from and what she is doing at the Eiffel Tower on a Tuesday morning, just as I am. Perhaps there is an important meaning in our meetings, a meaning I couldn’t possibly know yet because for whatever reason, it has not yet been the time to find out. Maybe it will be something profound that will change the course of my life forever. It could be like Edward Lorenz’s “butterfly effect” within the chaos theory, where a small change at one place in time can result in major differences in a later state. Our connection could change history as we know it.
Or maybe, who knows, it could just be happenstance.