I study words, but even I found this one a bit strange. Serendipity’s an odd, mysterious
word. And it’s also more.
Don’t get me wrong; we all need some mystery in our lives. A little strange every now and then is like ginger in our tea, spice of a different flavor.
My Random House Dictionary states that serendipity is “an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.” So there you have it: mystery & strange & desirable all wrapped up in one long word. Fancy that!
The term’s origins go back as far as 420 A.D, a noun coined from a Persian fairy tale. But I’m getting ahead of myself – more on that later.
Last weekend began as many of mine do. Like most everyone else, I worked long and hard at my job all week so that I could do something relaxing on my Saturday off. And here I was, driving around on a remodeled home tour with my friend, Lisa.
Mind you, I wasn’t feeling particularly serendipitous this day. But, as I stepped out of my car, I noticed that a black SUV that had followed me down the hill and driven past me slowly had turned around and was now slowing down again as it approached.
It stopped opposite me, and the window lowered to reveal a smiling face.
“Say,” said the smiling face, “Did you buy that Boxster at So-And-So Performance?” And before I knew it, I met the guy who had to sell his beloved car three years before because he had been transferred to Calgary, up in Canada. I had bought it, and now it was one of my favorite rides. And so we became fast friends talking about our mutual admiration for this buggy.
He remarked that I had evidently taken good care of it, and he mentioned that he lived just up the street, and before you could say “remodeled kitchen” he was back with a box load of spare parts for the car that he graciously handed over to me, gratis. Lisa supplied the word for this chance encounter.
“Now, is that serendipity, or what?” she remarked, shaking her head and smiling.
So a few minutes later Lisa and I were standing in this remodeled home, getting the full 50-cent tour, admiring the work and listening to the remodeler’s presentation.
Just then, the brand new American-made refrigerator started to moan softly like a sick cat. The agent standing next to my friend remarked: “I have the same fridge, and sometimes it sounds like the cat inside it is dying.”
Lisa chuckled and said back: “I have the same fridge too, and when mine is not moaning, it’s clucking like a chicken.”
The agent burst out laughing at this because it obviously had happened to hers as well. Which completely ruined the presentation, because by now everyone was trading refrigerator stories and not looking at the superb granite counter, or the vaulted ceiling, or signing up to have their home redone.
But we all enjoyed this unexpected moment, even the flustered remodeler trying to present his work, and in the end we all exchanged stories and marveled how appliances can somehow connect complete strangers in new and surprising ways.
Now, is that serendipity, or what?
The Three Princes of Serendip is a Persian tale of three brother princes who were exiled by their father, the king, so that they would learn the ways of the world from direct experience. Through several trials they become extremely clever; mystery and strange and desire all inhabit their stories.
Like when they were captured by a merchant, brought before the merchant’s king, and put on trial for the theft of his camel.
And one prince says: “You mean the gap-toothed camel carrying the pregnant woman?”
And another says: “That was blind in one eye?”
And the third said: “That carried a sack of honey on one side of its hump, and a sack of butter on the other side?”
And then all three said in unison: “We didn’t steal it. In fact, we didn’t even see it!”
At this point, not only were the merchant extremely suspicious, but also, the king who had imprisoned them.
But the magnanimous king motioned the executioner to hold back his scimitar of justice until the princes had a chance to make their point.
Which they soon did. As they put it:
- The grasses were eaten on only one side of the trail the princes had walked on while traveling to the kingdom. Not even the good side of the trail. And there were clumps where grass had not even been pulled up.
- There were flies on one side of the trail, swarming some yellow liquid. And ants on the other, carrying off some golden syrup.
- A tiny human hand and foot print were also by the trail, right by the hoof print of a camel.
Just then a minister to the king rushed in, saying that there was a very pregnant woman at the gate seeking alms, traveling with a one-eyed camel laden with sacks.
The king immediately recognized their powers of deduction, dropped all charges, and appointed the three princes to be ministers of his cabinet.
Now, is that serendipity, or what?
Ronald Sieber is a commercial writer and author who muses about Life as we know it and writes a blog while on the road. Leave your reactions about the blog in the space provided if you like. Need help with your corporate communications? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.