Topical Guide 9
Coincidence; Chance; Fate; Luck
There we were on the bus and having to stand up holding on when a car suddenly shot out of a side street in front of the bus, and the driver shouted something that I pretended not to understand. When the driver slammed on the brakes, all of us on the bus were thrown this way and that, and as luck would have it Eliza was thrown against my chest
“John Simpson” to “Mary Strong,” in “My Mother Takes a Tumble”
How very lucky Miss Foote was that that reckless driver pulled out in front of the bus that you ride to and from work. I guess some people have all the luck . . . and fate smiles on them . . . and sends an impetuous lad careening out of a side street very conveniently at just the right moment so that they are thrown into the arms of a man like you when they just happen very conveniently to be standing side by side.
Oh, dear foolish Jack! Open your eyes! Can all this have been just coincidence?
“Mary Strong” to “John Simpson” in “My Mother Takes a Tumble”
There’s no controlling the unrolling of your fate, my friend
Who knows what’s written in the magic book
But when a lover you discover at the gate, my friend
Invite her in without a second look
Steve Allen, “This Could be the Start of Something Big”
It is the dangerous hour of clear understanding. Oh, for a kindly hand to tap at my door! Oh, for a face to come between me and the made-up counselor spying on me out of the mirror! Chance, my friend and master, will surely deign to send again, to help me, the familiar devils of his unruly kingdom! l have no faith, except in him—and in myself.
mute coincidence: a coincidence without any significance, such as “At the very moment when Professor Avenarius stepped into the Jacuzzi and felt the warm stream of water on his back, in a public park in Chicago a yellow leaf fell off a chestnut tree.”
poetic coincidence: coincidence that breathes unexpected significance into an event, such as “At the very moment the first yellow leaf fell in Chicago, Professor Avenarius entered the Jacuzzi to massage his back,” in which the coincidence makes us see Professor Avenarius as a harbinger of autumn
contrapuntal coincidence: “like two melodies merging into one small composition,” such as “Professor Avenarius submerged himself in the Jacuzzi at the very moment that, in the Swiss Alps, Agnes started her car.”
story-producing coincidence: “adored by novelists,” such as, “Professor Avenarius entered the Montparnasse Métro at the very moment a beautiful woman was standing there with a red collection box in her hand.”
I WASN’T BORN on the night the Nevsky mansion burned, but if, on a September night, when the weather cools suddenly and the haze of summer drops as dew onto autumn’s lawns, leaving the night air clearer than it has been for months, so that the moon illuminates my insomniac hours like a searchlight, with a brilliance quite unlike the phosphorescent softness of summer moonlight, I happen to see sweet autumn clematis growing on a wall, I am reminded of the stories I’ve heard about the night the mansion burned and of other nights, certain wonderful autumn nights when I was a boy, nights when I scaled the walls of the Glynns’ stone house and slipped into bed with Margot and Martha, those scented nights I spent abed with twins.
Thanks to the god of happy accidents it seems that every September there is a moonlit night when I do happen to see sweet autumn clematis growing on a wall, and so every year the memories return to me—the stone house, the welcoming Glynns, the clematis, the wall, the rope ladder, the narrow window, the plump comforter, the tutorial twins.
The Topical Guide continues after Episode 10 of the Personal History.
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