When I was younger, I read a series of books in the Serendipity series—about a sea creature that I always thought looked like a dragon. I remember at some point, my mom tried to explain the meaning of “serendipity” to me, but I was young for my grade level, and lots of things didn’t make sense that early.
Either that, or maybe I always just operated on a different wavelength.
This past weekend, though, I experienced a serendipitous moment.
I was in the basement (it’s cool down there, and it wasn’t quite hot enough to warrant air conditioning in the rest of the house. The television was on, and the dogs instantly howled, barked, and hurried upstairs. They do this only if someone is at the house or if they are confused (by a nefarious bird tapping at the window, for instance).
Thinking it was the neighbors (their daughter loves to visit the corgis), I prepared myself for a friendly visit. But instead, I saw a young woman shielding her eyes so she could peer into the side window of my front door.
My mind instantly raced: had she indeed sounded the doorbell? Who was she? Why was she peeking inside the house? Was she trying to see if we were home? Trying to break in? Was she the “attractive distraction” while the real thugs were waiting in the bushes until I opened the door? See, the situation did not fit into any known paradigm.
Slowly (it only took a few seconds, but time seems to slow down during moments like this), I came to realize that I recognized that face. But from where? From where? The long, perfectly-trimmed hair… the comfortable yet coordinated outfit. Was this a coworker?
Maybe someone I met at a conference.
No, no, no.
Then it hit me: it was my sister! What in the world was my sister doing at my front door, peering in, and not even calling my cell phone? She lived at least two (trafficky) hours away and always planned her visits well in advance.
Bear with me here; I’m an author. My mind always races with the strangest possibilities. It’s a helpful skill with storytelling, but it isn’t always the most practical. It’s why I could never fall asleep at night as a kid. My mind can take any innocent fact and turn it into a nightmare if allowed to go far enough.
So my mind raced with possibilities—again, in slow motion—as I retrieved the key to the front door from where it is kept. “Are you alright?” I was mouthing through the glass even as I went for the key.
She nodded her head, but my mind didn’t believe it yet. It raced with possibilities: maybe she ran away from home. Maybe she just had to get away. Maybe her cell battery died—or perhaps she didn’t even have time to grab her phone. And then the more sinister possibilities: maybe she was an outlaw now, looking for a place to hide away (I live somewhat in the middle of nowhere). Or maybe she was being pursued by someone, or something. Zombies, perhaps?
Thankfully, by this time, I had managed to unlock the door and reach out for a hug. I wondered if she would bust through the door and slam it behind her, peering outside in a paranoid way. But no, the dogs were already on her, and she petting them and smiling.
The truth was far more boring and pleasant than the potential my imagination had assigned it: She and her boyfriend had been on a day trip in West Virginia. Their phone’s GPS was taking them “a back way” home and then got “turned around,” giving them directions that didn’t make sense. They just happened to be driving along the road when my sister turned and said, “Hey, that’s Val’s house!”
So on the spur of the moment, even though my husband and I had just eaten pizza (!), we went out to eat with them. He got a cookie sundae and I got a salad (the place has really good salads! And it’s healthier than dessert, right?)
But most importantly, it was a serendipitous moment of togetherness. I tend to be someone who likes things that are planned and expected so that my mind doesn’t have to go through its obsessive-list-of-crazy-possibilities. But once in a while, it’s healthy to do something unplanned—to let your brain cycle through the possibilities, and to live a little.