Einstein said that coincidences were God’s way of remaining anonymous. What he meant by that I’m not certain. Was it that God orchestrates coincidences as gentle, unobtrusive reminders that He’s there after all?
Sometimes it seems that I’m besieged by coincidences. I’ll be reading, for example, and be struck by a word, say fatuity, and let it linger on my lips, savoring it, and a second after pronouncing aloud I’ll hear it on the radio—a pundit scoffing at the fatuity of a bill in Congress. And this initial coincidence begets a half dozen more.
Does everyone experience such episodes with regularity? How often does a word, a phrase, a snippet of song lodge in one’s consciousness, for the mere moment required for it to recur, on a billboard, on the side of a building, in a friend’s comment. Every time, it’s baffling. What are the chances?
Perhaps I’m especially attuned to such events? If you read a great deal, you take in that many more words and impressions, which means that you’re more susceptible to these echoes. But now I find myself actually anticipating the phenomena, the adumbration or repetition of a rare word or thought, splendid in itself but doubly so when twinned.
Besides the pleasure to be derived from these incidents, I also feel an occasional small shiver of terror. Just who is directing the effects?
The universe may be much smaller than anyone knows, too small to get away from anyone. Taking the word coincidence to mean the simultaneous occurrence of separate events, then there are an almost infinite number of coincidences happening every second, aren’t there? An individual’s consciousness is simply the mediator between these events, forging connections that would not have existed otherwise.
Maybe the wonder is that coincidences don’t assail us at every turn. I may flatter myself that I’m more finely attuned to them because of my bustling mental life, but isn’t it probably the case that the man preoccupied, so to speak, with fewer thoughts would be more susceptible to coincidence, to the happenstance of one event, out of the multitude of events impinging on his consciousness every hour, lining up exactly with one of the thought-events in his head?
If you were to think about your high-school English teacher, to take an example, and were to maintain an image of her in your mind to the exclusion of all other images, and then happened to cross paths with her, it would constitute a coincidence, but not an extraordinary one. Even the instance of two repetitions of the word fatuity, out of the thousands—millions?—of fragmentary and fleeting thought-events occurring every day, coinciding and then registering on one’s consciousness, while exceedingly more rare, is no more fantastic.
Take that, Albert!