Friday, December 22, 2006


Oprah's favorite line these days seems to be "There are no coincidences." And I used to believe that. I used to believe that everything in my life happened for a reason, that there was some universal order to the events of my existence. Now, I'm not so sure. Again, my ignorance was showing.

For example, when I would meet someone, whether friend or stranger, I would listen intently to what they had to say, thinking that everything they had to offer would be useful for me. Sometimes it would be a book recommendation or a pithy cliche. And I would take it in and breathe a sigh of relief feeling that "the universe" cared about me, that somehow, that person was provided at that exact time to tell me exactly what I needed to hear.

I remember so many times a book would be recommended to me to read. And I'd run off to the nearest bookstore, buy it and devour it, looking for what it was that the universe was trying to tell me. And most times I'd see something that seemed to fit with my current life dilemma. But there were other times where the information would seem completely unhealthy or inaccurate. And I would wonder, what am I supposed to do with this? Where do I put this information if it's been directed to me in some non-coincidental, almost providential way? And when I could, I would dismiss the information but feel really sad because it made me question my belief in the nature of coincidence, in the nature of the universe really.

I would discuss this with some of my friends, mostly new agers, who also believed as I did in the non-coincidental version of the universe. They would say, "You got exactly what you needed. You needed to have that information to see that you didn't believe it." Huh? This just confused me more. So, sometimes information came my way just so I could confirm that it wasn't for me? Or unhealthy people entered my life just so I could know that they were unhealthy? And how exactly does one tell the difference between what to accept and what to discard if it's all driven by some ultimate meaning?

You can imagine the angst it caused me each day attempting to sort out what secret message lay within every interaction I encountered. I just stubbed my toe. No coincidence eh? Okay, what does it mean then? What about the car accident I had 7 years ago? Or the day my back went out when I was doing yoga? Or what about the abuse I suffered at the hands of men who claimed to represent God? No coincidence? So, what's the meaning?

I agonized over every little event, every conversation, every flu, sniffle and ache. I looked for meaning everywhere. Wasted a whole lot of energy looking for meaning where none was to be found. The reality was that I could put a meaning on anything I wanted. It didn't make it true. Sometimes I saw what I wanted to see. And sometimes I didn't see what was most obvious, that sometimes it just is. There are coincidences. There is probability of events. Sometimes things just happen because you're at the wrong place at the wrong time. And sometimes great and wonderful things happen as well, and that often has nothing to do with you either. As Penn Jillette, the famous illusionist, says, "Million to one odds happen eight times a day in New York."

In my naivete, I wanted to believe that the universe revolves around my existence, that I'm supremely special and that there is a providential hand directing my life. I really wanted it to be true. And then I grew up.

tall penguin


Peter said...

I love that quote from Penn. I use it often myself.

tall penguin said...

It's a great quote. One I recently discovered. Another one I like on the subject, not by Penn though, is: "Even a broken clock is right twice a day."

Anonymous said...

Tall Penguin, your universe does revolve around you, and you are supremely special. Don't let anyone tell you different. Two out of three ain't bad!


tall penguin said...

Thanks Dan. A nice reminder.

Anonymous said...

Penn is a good source. Here is his essay for NPR's "This I believe". I especially like the line "Believing there's no God means I can't really be forgiven except by kindness and faulty memories."