Serendipity, coincidence, and selective attention

One of those bizarre juxtapositions of events happened to me this morning. A couple of years ago – through Facebook as it happens – I made contact with an old friend from 25 years before. We had been really close (yes, really close) and it was a joyous reunion. There were none of the potential disasters that can accompany such blasts from the past: I haven’t rushed into divorce proceedings, nor broken my wedding vows. Inevitably in the first rush of excitement we met up frequently and spoke regularly, catching up on a quarter of a century of our separate lives. Equally inevitably, as time’s gone on, we’ve sunk back into the more normal rhythm of friendly contact – well certainly normal if one of the partners is a bloke, and even more so if that bloke is me. I am possibly the world’s worst maintainer of contact, even with those where I’d be devastated were I to lose that contact.

And so it was that whilst shaving this morning my friend drifted across my consciousness, along with the realisation that we’d not touched base for several weeks. As I scraped away at the haggard visage that is my morning (morning? Who am I kidding? All times share equally in this dreary attribute) face I also reflected that on this occasion the culprit was not me. This is, I suspect, another mostly male notion, but I tend to run all my communications as if they were conducted on short-wave radio. Once I’ve said, “Over, Roger”, my responsibilities are discharged until the other party responds. I mean, for me to initiate contact again might look like harassment, surely. The only exception that can be made is if the re-initiated contact is dripping with irony and humour, and thus can insulate me from any suggestion that I might be feeling needy or any of that other emotional guff. So between razor strokes and vigorous rinsing of the blade – there is no electric razor permitted in my house – I began to construct the text that I would send later in the day. It was to be full of “if you’re still alive”s and “not sure if you’ll remember me”s and other indicators that this was a merely casual and light-hearted prompt fully free of any taint of hurt or regret. My friend was supposed to feel guilty, but also to know that it really didn’t matter to me at all and I wasn’t in any sense pining for her electronic touch. Actually, I’d missed her quite badly, but I could see no benefit whatever in letting her know the fact.

At that very moment, the irritating chimes of my text-received indicator went off in the living room. It was a cheery “long time baby!!” from none other than the friend we’ve been discussing. Of course, all you hard-bitten scientists and high-minded sceptics will even now be marshalling your arguments in anticipatory refutation of even a scintilla of a suggestion that there might be anything happening here beyond the mighty and dispassionate hand of cold coincidence. And I know you’re right. I know all about the arguments that crush any possibility of romantic fantasy by reminding me curtly that for all those times I’ve thought about my friend and no sudden text has been received I’ve never felt it necessary to comment on the event. The dog didn’t bark, and that’s that. So what that it now appears to be yapping like an especially annoying Pekingese?

Well, actually, I don’t give a toss. Life is entirely meaningless unless we construct a meaning for it. If you want to live in the arid conviction that nothing can be significant in your life unless it can be tested in a conveniently situated Large Hadron Collider, then be my guest. I’m thrilled that my friend has contacted me, and the delicious coincidence of that contact being made at the moment that she was also in my thoughts adds to my pleasure, and heightens its apparent significance. Yes, I have selected this event, and yes, I am giving it my attention. It pleases me to do so. And anyway, where’s the proof that there isn’t something else going on here?


6 thoughts on “Serendipity, coincidence, and selective attention

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Serendipity, coincidence, and selective attention « The At-Long-Last-I've-Got-a-Job Blog --

  2. Awesome! That’s a friendship worth it’s weight in gold. A friend of mine was thinking about our mutual friend on Sunday but dismissed it and decided not to call…turns out her Father died that day. He didn’t call because he talked himself out of it.

    As children we fearlessly reach out commpletely unaware of how we appear. Eventually we makes mistakes and become self-conscious and fearful of offending or reaching out for someone that isn’t going to be there for us. I’m glad you both decided to reach out….that’s a dear friend indeed.


  3. Lovely. Surely the point of life is that the vast majority of the time it is an exercise in well-trodden routines and planned interventions (holidays, nights out, other social engagements), with a little serendipity sprinkled in just to make you go “funny old thing, life, eh?” It’s the funny little coincidences that make the routine seem worthwhile.

  4. We live in a world of our own imaginings half the time (and probably one of other people’s for the other half), so if it has significance for you then it’s significant.

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