Generally, coincidences in our lives are polite handshakes between similar, overlapping events, thoughts, and encounters, the kind as children we blurted “jinx” when saying the same thing at the same time, thus imbuing it with a glow of meta-meaning… and penalties if last to say it. But children start out as eerie and dance outside of our ideas of causality. Toasters are magic. Phases of the moon are magic.
And this is not to say every coincidence sparks a sense of the arcane. Take for example, the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi from Nakasaki Japan, who went to Hiroshima for business the day of the bombing, survived and went back home to Nagasaki…and survived that bombing.
While mathematicians like Joseph Mazur in his book Fluke lay down their cold calculus of how coincidental things fall into the realm of the mathematically possible, others have laced together hypotheticals that lean toward the Matrix and submit that the Jinx factor lies outside our mechanical world-view: Carl Jung, Nobel physicist Wolfgang Pauli, and Arthur Koestler, to name a few. And we’re back to toasters and moon phases.
A few years ago, I encountered one of these overlaps that first stayed in the realm of quiet handshakes between reasonable, coinciding events.
I was looking through the internet for landscape photographers searching for an image for a client’s book cover when I came across a name that rang a distant bell. Lila Garnett. It took me a while to recall that as a child, my mother would occasionally invoke Lila’s name when viewing remarkable in life she felt her old friend would appreciate: a school of dolphins off our dock in Florida, the wavering citrus yellow curtains of the northern lights in Rhode Island.
Hers was a distinct name, but there were probably hundreds of Lila Garnetts in the world and this photographer was far too young to have been my mother’s friend. I decided to send Lila Garnett an email, sure to trigger a warning that she believed I was an outpatient.
I simply asked if her mother had the same name and if her family was from Virginia. She wrote back: yes. And she didn’t call the police.
I asked if I could call her. Amazingly she agreed. I told her about my mother’s mentioning ‘Lila Garnett’ and that I know one other Garnett as kid at camp, Jimmy Garnett. That was her brother she told me, knowing that he’d gone to camp in New Hampshire.
So far, all in the vanilla realm of coincidence while also discovering that my uncle, as a minister, also performed her parents’ wedding.
The rest of the conversation included our mutual interest in Virginia history and her extensive research into her family ancestry there and ended the conversation on the pleasant note that two strangers had overlapping connections.
Several days later, I recalled another mention of the Garnett name, this time from an 1864 letter my great-great grandmother wrote. Her husband, my great-great grandfather, Randolph Harrison, lay dying from a bullet wound in the neck, shot during the battle of The Crater outside of Richmond.
A doctor Garnett was summoned to attend Randolph’s wound and save his life.
I called Lila again, asking if she had a relative in Richmond, a physician, during the Civil War. Yes, she said, her great-great-grandfather was a doctor in Richmond who tended the war’s wounded.
Suddenly I was now in the realm of Jung-Pauli synchronicity, Jinx times 10,000.
Trying to suppress magic thinking, I was left with the fact, as clear as any mathematics, that 160 years ago, our 2x great grandparents intersected in the space-time roulette of life, and we found each other to discover it.
And oddly, the only thing I’ve ever won in a lottery or drawing, was a toaster.
Jim Dissette is the editor of the Chestertown Spy.