More Than Coincidence

Mary Jo Shannon
Mary Jo Shannon

Coincidence,” Webster says, “is the occurrence of two events that happen at the same time by accident, but seem to have some connection.” I wonder if there might be a plan, an unseen direction that puts us where we need to be to help someone. An experience I had a couple of years ago leaves no doubt in my mind that such was the case.

Twice a week I participate in water aerobics. I usually go on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but because of a Tuesday meeting, I “happened” to attend the Monday class. This class is quite large and there is little opportunity for conversation. However, it “happened” that the instructor told us to walk back and forth across the pool, allowing us to chat a bit.

A woman I did not recognize approached me and called me by name. “You were my son’s teacher,” she said, and she told me his name.  The name was familiar, but I could not remember the circumstances. My teaching career included a tutorial program, four schools, public and private, and covered a span of over forty years.

“At Raleigh Court kindergarten,” she added, “he really loved you.”

Now  I could picture the little boy as he participated in a cowboy dance for May Day – 37 years ago.” Sure, I remember him,” I replied. “What’s he doing now?”

“He died sixteen years ago,” she said. “A drowning accident.”

Just as I mumbled “I’m so sorry,” the instructor called us back to our positions and our conversation ended. I felt empty – I felt she needed to say more and I desperately wanted to offer some words of comfort.

Usually the sauna is crowded after the class ends, but it so “happened” that she and I were the only ones that morning. I asked her how she was – something told me she was still grieving. She poured out her story – that he was her only child and they were so close she couldn’t get over his death.  She and her husband had moved since she could not bear to stay in the same house. I asked if she had counseling and she said for sixteen years she saw a psychiatrist and took medication for depression. She said her pastor was “a good preacher” but not much help with her problem. I invited her to visit our church and she thanked me. By this time we both were ready to leave the sauna – 200 degrees sends you out after a short time!

I felt humbled and inadequate, as if I had not completed an assignment. I told my pastor, and he suggested I call her and ask her to have a cup of coffee with me. I found her listing in the phone book, took a deep breath, uttered a prayer for help, and dialed her number. She accepted with pleasure.

We met after aerobics the next week, and I listened for over an hour. As if a dam had burst, all her fears and anxieties gushed out.   She finally expressed her fear that his death was not accidental, but self-inflicted. What assurance could she have that he was with God?

All I could offer was a listening ear and my conviction that God is good and I can trust him. I know she was relieved after talking and appreciated having someone who would simply listen. She has not visited our church but we correspond and her letters seem to reflect a calmer mind-set these days.

Was our chance meeting just a coincidence? Is there really ever such a thing?

Writer Frederick Buechner has this to say about a coincidence: “Every once and so often we hear a whisper from the wings that goes something like this: ‘You’ve turned up in the right place at the right time. You’re doing just fine. Don’t ever think that you’ve been forgotten.’”

Maybe that definition is more accurate than Webster’s.

By Mary Jo Shannon
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