Serendipity has been the map I have used to navigate most of my life. I think that in order to live by this philosophy, it requires a high level of trust that things tend to work out. I have come to learn that most people are not able to do this so I now consider it a superpower. It’s possible that I’m just lazy or perhaps I am reacting to my controlling father, but I hate planning things. In fact I am really allergic to planning things. There are many people in my life who feel the need to control everything. I think they believe that if they don’t hold the reins tightly, all hell will break loose. I, on the other hand, really like to let things unfold organically. When my daughter was born, we noticed right away that she had an ease of wellbeing, as if she naturally trusted that the world was a benevolent place. Conversely, my son was suspicious and outraged, as if the world was intentionally trying to annoy him. It seems to me that we are born with these temperaments.
Life has thrown me many curveballs and as I age, I realize that the extreme positions of our youth tend to soften over the years. My boyfriend is a planner and I have witnessed how that can result in better opportunities sometimes. I have grown more anxious since becoming a mother and am less able to roll with a missed flight or a closed highway. I also see that the world has become more crowded and many things like campgrounds and museums require reservations now. I’d like to think that I have found a middle ground, but I admit I miss my youthful days of full blown spontaneity and fearless leaps of faith.
My favorite experience with serendipity happened when I was 26. Every summer I used to traverse the country from Colorado to Vermont to work as a counselor at a beloved sleep-away camp. Normally I took my own car but one year it happened that my friend Kim would be driving from Colorado to Pennsylvania in mid June and I thought it would be fun to travel with her. Coincidentally, my brother Jed and his fiance would be driving from Maryland to upstate New York around the same time. If we could successfully rendezvous, I could hitch a ride with them heading north and wind up at camp on time. My father seemed to think we were being too cavalier and we’d never meet up. That made it all the more amusing for us. I had only one brief conversation with my brother prior to leaving.
“We’ll be hitting the road around Thursday or Friday, taking route 81 north,” he told me.
“Yeah, it’ll probably take us 2 or 3 days to make it to Pennsylvania, I’ll page you when I get closer”.
This was in the days before cell phones and I was never a big fan of planning ahead so with no particular structure in place, I commenced the first leg of my journey. The remarkable part is that I had 4 pet rabbits along for the ride as well. I’m really not sure what I thought I would do if we didn’t connect with my brother. I doubt rabbits are welcome on Greyhound buses. Kim and I drove for 2 or 3 days, stopping when tired or hungry, mostly playing it by ear. We stayed in cheap motels and ate pancakes at truck stops. The rabbits took turns sitting on my lap and we watched miles of cornfields fly by the windows. When our progress east on route 80 intercepted route 81 it finally occurred to me to check in with my brother.
“Let’s get off the next exit and page Jed,” I suggested.
As we got off the exit ramp it was dark outside and pretty remote. We leaned toward the windshield trying to spot any sign of civilization. Before long we noticed a dimly lit doughnut shop on the right side of the street and a lonesome gas station on the left. We parked at the doughnut shop and went inside to use their payphone. We paged my brother and waited in pink and orange plastic chairs under fluorescent bulbs. I rubbed my eyes as they adjusted to the light. It didn’t take long for my brother to receive my page, get off the next exit and ring the payphone. I jumped up to answer it and pressed the cool receiver against my ear.
“Where are you?” I inquired.
“Route 81,” he informed me.
“Us too. What exit?” I asked.
“Um… exit 205A.”
“Oh my God we’re at exit 205A! Where are you?” I exclaimed somewhat stunned.
“We’re at a gas station across from a doughnut shop.”
“We’re at a doughnut shop across from a gas station!”
There was a pause as it dawned on us both.
I turned to face the enormous plate glass windows and I peered across the road into the darkness. There was an outdoor payphone under a street lamp and there was my brother craning his neck to look in my direction.
I laughed triumphantly, and ran out to the parking lot. My brother drove over to where our car was parked. We all four hugged and transferred my luggage from one vehicle to the other. I picked up the rabbit cage and slid it into my brother’s car and we were on our way.
The next morning my skeptical father wondered aloud how on earth our crazy plan had worked. “Pretty good,” was all we said and we chuckled to ourselves.