Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Webster's Collegiate defines serendipity as "the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for," but I tend to think of it as the force that brings you little gifts from the universe—whether you have been actively wishing for them or not. It's what I believe in instead of "coincidence," a word that does not admit a purposeful design in our lives. Linked to my idea of serendipity is the Law of Attraction, which has been a "hidden in plain sight" premise of spiritual and metaphysical teachings for centuries, but that has more recently been mass marketed in the short film and best-selling book by Rhonda Byrne, The Secret. I have numerous "serendipity stories," from the simply odd to the astonishingly powerful. I had forgotten about the very first instance I noticed (there were probably others before this), but was reminded again this past weekend when I saw a good friend from college, whom I had not seen in many years. This is not an "astonishingly powerful" story—it's more along the lines of "very strange fate"—but I remember it because it pushes me to consider that we are always calling into our lives the things that we think about, or the things we place in our vision (physical or metaphorical) on a daily basis. Let me take you back to my bathroom wall. I know it sounds strange, but that's fitting for the story in any case. All throughout my teenage years, I did what pretty much every teen does for decor: I taped on the walls a collage of images clipped from magazines. Maybe some others of my generation remember the more common sources of the time: Tiger Beat for the music fans and celeb watchers; W or Vogue for the budding fashionistas; pretty much any periodical that grabbed the attention of an impressionable audience. At some point in the late 1980s, I transitioned to Interview magazine, which I thought was the height of edgy sophistication. I remember thinking the format was unusual, the photography was a more artistic black-and-white, matte and not glossy, and the subjects in the interviews and smaller feature photographs were not just the already famous, but also interesting people I might not otherwise know about. I had collages taped up in my room, but also a very few images (all from Interview) Scotched in a corner near the cabinet mirror of the upstairs bathroom in my parent's house—the bathroom that only I used. There are two pictures in particular that I remember, and it's possible they were the only two there (as I said, they were scarce in this location). One was of a young Sinead O'Connor, when she was not yet mainstream in the States. I knew about her, because I had traveled in Ireland when her first singles were getting a lot of airplay, and I'd purchased her Lion and the Cobra album (the version with the "angry" cover art, rejected by American marketing teams in favor of something that made her look more docile). In this photo, her eyes were the focus: enhanced rather heavily with liner, shadow, mascara, they looked big and were made to appear even bigger because of the lack or suppression of other features (her hand was covering her mouth, and obviously there was no hair to distract from the face). The other photo was of a young woman whose name I might have read in the magazine, but if I did, I promptly forgot it. I didn't recognize her face, but something about her looks seduced me into cutting out her image and adding it to the bathroom wall. Unlike Sinead, she had hair, long and slightly wavy, framing her face and spilling down her shoulders. The photo was grayscale, but you could tell she was a red-head; it was in her complexion. The portrait was fairly tight, seen from just below the shoulders. This part is fuzzier in memory, but I think she was wearing a medium-dark sweater of some sort, and her hands might have been hugging it around her, or holding the neckline up closer to her chin. It seemed a natural gesture, soft and comfortable. The cuffs of the sweater fell long on her hands, covering the wrists and reaching to the knuckles. Her eyes were clear, light, gentle. She looked like someone you could talk to. To me, an only child, she looked like a sister. "You have a picture of my sister on your bathroom wall!" Fast-forward a few years, two or three maybe. I had clipped and taped those photos before going to college; now, here I was a sophomore, and a friend I'd become close to just that year was spending the night with me at my parents' house in Connecticut—perhaps after or in anticipation of a day in New York City, I don't remember the occasion. What was she saying? Her sister? Since I was rarely home anymore, I'd pretty much forgotten what was in the bathroom. My friend called me in, pointed to the photograph, and told me that was her sister. Once she said it, it was easy to see the resemblance, but I wouldn't have put it together myself—the names were no clue, since I really never knew her sister's name, first or last. Sure enough, though, my friend's sister was (still is) an actress, and I had been looking at her picture for years, for no particularly good reason other than I liked that photo more than the hundreds of others I could have selected. Coincidence? I prefer to think of it as serendipity, as an inexplicable knowing, a foreshadowing, or a calling into existence of a special bond between formerly unknown people. After this, I took the picture down. It seemed too strange to have a photo of someone I knew was my friend's sister hanging on the bathroom wall next to Sinead O'Connor (who also came down). I don't know if my friend remembers this, though she'll recognize the incident if she reads it. It must have been much more strange for her. We are still good friends, though a distance of space and time often separates us for long stretches. As I mentioned, I got to see her this past weekend, and as it happens, her sister was with her. I had never met her, though I did meet some of the family (parents, a brother) when my friend graduated from college a couple of years before I did. Her sister looks basically the same, though older of course. She still looks like someone you'd want to know and call family; she seems beautiful, intelligent, and gentle. All traits that my friend also possesses. I don't tape pictures up on the wall anymore, but if I did . . . at least I know what qualities to look for, and I know to expect the unexpected connections.

1 comment:

  1. "...the force that brings you little gifts from the universe.."

    I like that. It rings so true.