Musing on Coincidences

We’re waiting for another state road map cribbage board, this one is Wisconsin. If you’ve seen the cribbage game video we made, “Pegging Around Iowa,” you get the idea.

We’ve been to Wisconsin, briefly. It’s a complicated story. It was roughly 13 years ago. We moved to Madison so I could make another stab at private practice psychiatry.

During the lunch break between interviews, I read The Onion for the first time. It was set up as a college newspaper in which none of the stories were factually accurate—and wildly satirical. I thought it was really funny. It started back in 1988 in Madison, Wisconsin. It’s now based in Chicago. They published a large paperback book entitled The Onion Book of Known Knowledge: A Definitive Encyclopaedia of Existing Information.

I’m pretty sure none of the information was true. I owned a copy, but the print was so small, I couldn’t read it without a magnifying glass. It either got lost in one of our moves or I got rid of it.

Scott Dikkers was one of the originators. Coincidentally, in 1993 he was interviewed by a columnist for The Daily Iowan, the University of Iowa college newspaper. Scott also wrote a cartoon called Jim’s Journal. This is another coincidence because I kept a sort of diary in between blogs for a while a few years ago. I called it Jim’s Journal. Back in 1993 I wasn’t paying attention then to The Onion or much of anything else except surviving my first year of residency in psychiatry at Iowa.

The Onion was one of my favorite reminders of Madison. We loved living there, but unfortunately, I disliked private practice. We moved back to Iowa, but not before doing a lot of fun things in Madison and places nearby.

Another coincidence that is admittedly minor is that, several years ago I accidentally walked into an auditorium ready to present my Grand Rounds lecture to a crowd. The only hitch was that it was the wrong crowd. I had arrived early and the previous group was still in the auditorium. That was embarrassing. When it was time for my performance, I sort of ad libbed a series of jokes about my blunder. This got me an award from the residents—Improvisor of the Year.

I think I also blogged about the experience and used a feature image of myself with the caption, “And now for the juggling of produce,” a reminder of my clownish performance at the Grand Rounds. If you look closely, you can see one of the produce items is—you guessed it, an onion.

Years later, I happened to find a video of older people being interviewed on their 100th birthday. They were in Madison. I left a comment saying I thought it was a gas. I still do. Coincidentally, I worked at St. Mary’s Hospital, albeit briefly. I left that comment in 2012, about 3 years after I returned to Iowa.

And, coincidentally I found another video that sends pretty much the same message, pertinent to our times. It was taken for a January 2021 news story about a lady named Mary Gerber who was celebrating her 100th birthday who had volunteered for 33 years at St. Mary’s Hospital and got her first Covid-19 vaccine. 

These coincidences happen only occasionally, but continue to reverberate in our lives, even to this day. I think of the 2002 alien invasion film, Signs. In it, the lead character is Graham Hess, a local pastor who has given up being a minister because he’s lost his faith related to his wife dying in a car accident. He and his brother Merrill are discussing the many lights in the sky (UFOs) that have been seen recently. I think of what he says,

People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, as evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance. I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

Merrill answers “I’m a miracle man.”

I’m not sure yet what group I fall into. Things happen sometimes that make me hope there are miracles.

Author: James Amos

I'm a retired consult-liaison psychiatrist. I navigated the path in a phased retirement program through the hospital where I was employed. I was fully retired as of June 30, 2020. This blog chronicles my journey.

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