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The Meaning of Coincidence

The story I usually tell is this: one afternoon about a year ago I met up with a friend (I’ll call her Olivia), someone I hadn’t seen since college. We were giddy and caffeinated, exchanging stories about the shocking realization that we were both dating—falling in love with—people we’d first been adamantly certain were just flings. Erykah Badu played as a soundtrack: “I was not looking for no love affair.”

Life is utterly unpredictable, cheekily magical in its tricks, we agreed. Once “cracked open” (what we’d come to call this perspectival shift, the recognition that you never truly know what’s to come), rationality only goes so far. Olivia mentioned that her fling-turned-boyfriend had found lucrative gigs writing copy through mass staffing websites like Elance and thought I might be interested. So I took his email and sent him a message that night, checking his profile on Facebook, as one does, out of curiosity.

The next day I found myself in between appointments at a coffee shop near Union Square. While sitting there, I remembered Olivia’s boyfriend, and looked down to find an email reply from him, sent within the minute. Strange, but not unlike the remarkable but familiar experience of thinking about someone just before they call. After skimming the email, I noticed that the man sitting next to me was texting with a woman named Olivia (the café had close seating and I am a nosy seat mate). When he got up to go to the bathroom, I pulled up Olivia’s boyfriend’s Facebook profile again. Indeed, this was the very man sitting next to me! (I should mention that he lives in Brooklyn, I in Harlem, and that this coffee shop is a place that neither of us had ever been to before.) When he sat back down, I tapped him on the shoulder. Incredulous, we talked about this improbable meeting, had a good laugh, and then went on about our lives.

Read more: Lucy McKeon: The Meaning of Coincidence – Guernica / A Magazine of Art & Politics

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