Count the people in your life. The people who matter, whether or not they are a part of your daily interactions and routines. Now subtract your family members. Only the people you have met, either with intention or chance are left. Think about how you met them. Was it in grade school; were they sitting in the desk next to you? At soccer practice? On the schoolbus? In a crowded cafeteria at university? At work? On the street? Through a mutual friend? A crowded bar? An empty bar?
Whether or not we acknowledge the role that chance plays in our lives, our relationships are threaded with colorful points of serendipity. I would not be one to say that each meeting that turned into an important friendship changes my life, but, in a way they do. What do we gain with each meeting? I can count on one hand and maybe two, people who have changed my perspective, given me love, support, laughter, and the rare but important tough love that shakes you to the core.
My best friend is one who I had been acquaintances with for years in grade school ( the kind of acquaintance you worked on book reports with, played with at recess, etc. but never stepped beyond that into the magical zone of best-friend-dom ) until by fate we happened to be in the same seventh grade team. My weirdness and impish behavior finally found a mirror. From that chance blossomed a friendship that upon reflection, is a large reason why I am who I am. If I divided the influences of my life neatly into a visual pie-chart, the two largest pieces would be where and whom I was born to, and E.T. I count her as the catalyst behind every life leap I've taken. We act as confidantes, competitors, and cohorts. And if the guidance counselor or computer program had placed us in different classes all those years ago? It makes me shudder.
Fast forward several years. Two mentors in the form of art teachers suggest an opportunity that changes the trajectory of my life. Due to this summer camp experience, I know I want to live a creative life, wherever it leads. A privilege due to the school I went to, and the incredible fine arts faculty that used to be there.
Fast forward to university. In the first week of classes, I speak to a librarian, interested in finding a job there. Someone just left and my small-town-library experience pays off as I get hired on the spot. This leads me to one or two lasting friendships and four years later, I meet someone who becomes my first serious romantic partner.
I forgot how I heard about the study abroad program at my university, but I took advantage of it and my academic scholarships to study in Hungary for 5 months. It becomes the most challenging and rewarding rollercoaster half-year of my life. I find all of my boundaries by pushing past them, leading to some embarrassing and painful private memories as well as soaring moments of feeling truly alive. I meet friends who are still important to me. I fall in love (sort of). I develop an intense attachment to Central Europe. My best friend (E.T.) visits me. One year later she is living in the Czech Republic, drawn to the same energy I felt.
I continue to travel as a student and then a teacher with summers free. I work on a farm in a village with 17 houses. I meet a good friend at the farm who I share a kinship with. We work together for two days. She asks me to design several designs for her herbalism business years later. I go to Japan, sit on a bench, and sketch a wedding procession at a temple. I ask a man to please watch my things as I run closer to discreetly photograph the stately, slow, and beautiful wedding procession. I return and we strike up a conversation. I spend the most fun day I've had in what feels like a year with a stranger. We part, never to meet again, though with the consolation of connecting on social media. He messages me one line later that evening. Ichi-go Ichi-e. One time, one meeting. A Japanese concept of cherishing any meeting, as it will never happen the same way again. Another summer. I hesitantly arrive at a farmhouse of a friend-of-a-friend in Iceland. I meet a community of free-spirited, kind souls with a myriad of accents behind the door. I'm invited to a "party on an island." We motor out to a grassy island in the middle of a river. We pull nets of salmon up and our host prepares fresh raw salmon to eat. We grill some over a fire, and I look above at the midnight sun surrounded by satiated individuals singing along to "The Aeroplane Over the Sea" and count every fiber of me as blessed. I find myself on another trip around the sun meeting people who seem to be increasingly important, and then watching them vanish on the road. Each day on the northern Camino de Santiago I'm saying hello/goodbye. I meet four individuals who become a surrogate family. I fall in love (truly).
Why the reminiscences? Why the stressing of chance, of serendipity? It could just be the time of year. It could be that I trudged through "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera and spotted this oasis of a quote:
"chance and chance alone has a message for us. Everything that occurs out of necessity, everything expected, repeated day in and day out, is mute. Only chance can speak to us...Necessity knows no magic formulae-they are all left to chance. If a love is to be unforgettable, fortuities must immediately start fluttering down to it like birds to Francis of Assisi's shoulders."
It could be that the reflections of 2017 are spilling over into the new year. It could be a quarter-life crisis. It could be a reassessing of values. It could be that it is a Sunday evening and I'm trying hard not to think of the difficult week ahead. It could be that I recently rewatched Lost in Translation and felt a pang of nostalgia. It could be that a friend lent me one of Alejandro Jodorowsky's memoirs and I felt it remolding my brain to encounter chance with wonder.
It could be that I'm a sentimental pile of noodles.
Whatever food I may be a metaphor for, I find that in each of these meetings my mind was not pre-occupied with my plan for the day or the year or the next five. I was not looking at my phone or reading a book, absorbed in it, unaware of my surroundings. I was there. I was present. And, yes, I was lucky. I just happened to meet people who just happened to change the course of my life.
Do I believe in fate? Still not sure. But I do believe in chance, in serendipity, in happenstance, in ichi-go ichi-e, in whatever you'd prefer to call it.
What small or great meetings have changed your life? Let a girl know.