What a Coincidence!

Synchronicity in Action

by Joelle Steele

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Carl Jung referred to the concept of meaningful coincidences in life as "synchronicity." I think almost everybody has experienced the occasional simple, not too out of the ordinary daily coincidence. I personally keep track of my life's coincidences in a journal. It includes the incidences such as when my godson recommended I go to a particular art exhibit, and two days later my friend Sue called and asked if I wanted to go see that exhibit — the Toulouse Lautrec exhibit — that day. Many times the phone has rung and it was someone I had been wanting to hear from or had just been thinking about. And, I cannot even count the number of times I have run into the same person over and over again for no apparent reason.

Perhaps it is my psychic streak in action, or maybe it's something greater than that, like the untapped psychic energy of all the living beings on Planet Earth working together. Whatever it is, I have certainly experienced my fair share of synchronicity. I have always been very intuitive and my mother was much the same, so perhaps it runs in families. My mother often knew who was calling the minute the phone rang, and I can't tell you how many times she would be cleaning the house, changing sheets, and running to the grocery store to stock up because she was absolutely certain that my grandparents were going to show up for a visit that day. I don't ever recall a time when she was wrong about one of those visits.

But this article is about synchronicity, about coincidences. So here are a few of my own synchronistic experiences:

I have run into two people in particular with such regularity that it seems almost impossible. Henry and I met briefly in 1982 in Santa Monica, California when he was looking for work and I didn't have any openings. Between then and 1997 (when I moved away), I ran into him about two dozen times, including twice at the movies where I was seated only four or five feet away from him. I've also seen him at the dentist's office, the boardwalk in Venice Beach, the library in Santa Monica at least twice, a used furniture store on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles, four different restaurants on the West Side, Los Angeles International Airport, a marketing research seminar in Marina Del Rey, and a gem and mineral show at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium.

The other person who I kept running into was a woman named Jenna. We met for the first time in 1979 when I was playing tennis — not very proficiently — at a park in West Los Angeles. My friend had to leave and so Jenna and I played — for the first and only time. From then until about 1996, I ran into her about ten times. Once was right in front of the apartment building in Venice Beach that I had just moved into in 1980. She walked by pushing her bicycle, which had a flat tire. I also ran into her twice in different restaurants, at the hairdresser's, on the bus twice, at a used bookstore in Santa Monica, at grocery stores in Santa Monica, at a photocopy place down the street from where I lived, and in Palisades Park in Santa Monica where I was walking my bike because I was too tired to ride it any further!

In 1988, while living in Venice, California, I joined a very small and newly-formed barter group – less than 30 members. In browsing the membership list, I noted a member who lived in the very same house I did when I first moved to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is such a huge place and I was really surprised to find a member who lived in my old place. Then a few days later, a member called who noticed my Venice Beach address and said, "I used to live in your apartment."

I lived in Burlingame, California in the mid-1970s. My next door neighbor used to talk about his girlfriend, who was on her way home after living in France for a year. A few days later, she showed up at my front door, asking for help opening her boyfriend's temperamental deadbolt. As I jiggled her key in the lock and finally got the door opened she remarked, "You look so familiar. Didn't we go to school together?" We did. She had been in my art class at college and we both lived on the same floor and wing of the dorm.

People from my past have a way of turning up in my life at unexpected moments. I had only been in Los Angeles for about three weeks in 1979. I was on my way to pick up my paycheck from a temp agency in Beverly Hills. I heard someone calling my name but ignored it since no one knew me there. The voice called out louder and more insistently and I heard footsteps speeding up behind me, almost to a running pace. I entered the building and stood in front of the elevators, where he caught up to me. "Didn't you hear me calling you?" On closer examination, I saw that it was a man I had known when I was in college in Hayward, California. He had grown a beard and his hair was shorter so I didn't recognize him. He was living in southern California and was on his way to a meeting in the building next door.

When I moved back to my hometown of Monterey, California in 1997, I fully expected to see people I knew from high school and from when I lived there for a year in 1978. One day, I was resting on a bench at a turnout after a bicycle ride. Several cars were parked there, and the one nearest me had two people in the front seat, eating fast food and watching the ocean. The woman got out to put their trash in the can, and she walked over to me. "Aren't you Joelle?" she asked. I said yes and asked how she knew me. She replied, "I'm a friend of Dee's. We met at her house in Raleigh a few years back." Our mutual friend Dee had moved to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1989, and I had visited her there in 1991.

I find it interesting that whenever I need something it has a way of presenting itself. I had visited an outdoor used bookstore in Ojai with my friend Sue. About a year later, I wanted to go back to that bookstore but Ojai was outside the local bus system. I was going to call Sue and see if she was going again, but instead, just a couple days later, a former client of mine called and asked if I wanted to go to a specialty nursery in Ojai. Naturally, I mentioned the outdoor bookstore and she happily agreed to take me there.

Information comes my way when I need it as well. In 1983, I wanted to start publishing a monthly newsletter to help me market my services to the horticultural industry. I had a publishing background but not in periodicals, and I needed advice. While I was putting my first issue together, a landscaper called who needed help with his business but didn't have any money. He asked if maybe we could barter. I was reluctant until he told me that he used to be a magazine publisher.

In 1989, I had been looking for a book called "The Human Side of Plants" by Royal Dixon, published in 1914 and long out of print. One day, a tenant in a house I managed finally vacated after I had pleaded with him to move out peacefully so that I wouldn't have to evict him. After he moved out, sitting on the kitchen counter was "The Human Side of Plants" with a note apologizing for things not working out and saying, "I know you like plants and I hope you will enjoy this old book."

Even Mother Nature has obliged when I needed something. I had been trying unsuccessfully to draw birds. They always turned out cartoonish and the colors were never quite right. One day, as I was struggling with bird sketches yet again, a little sparrow-type bird lit right on the window sill next to my drawing table and sat there for almost five minutes — just long enough for me to sketch him and develop a proper color palette. That very same day, I was sketching in the park when a bird perched itself right on the back of my bench, allowing me to sketch him. But, I guess birds come in threes, because when I was eating a late lunch at an outdoor Mexican restaurant, a pigeon sat right on the table in front of me for almost a half an hour while I ate and sketched him. In exchange for his services I gave him a piece of my tortilla.

My needs are sometimes greater than birds and books. In 1988, I wanted to get into CDs but was waiting for the price of CD players to come down — good ones were expensive at that time, about $200. I gave a very brief phone consultation to a retired doctor in Beverly Hills who wanted some very specific advice about the purchase and management of a wholesale nursery he was in the process of buying. I didn't charge him and he said he was very grateful for me taking the time to help him. When we first started talking, he heard Segovia playing in the background and asked if it was a CD. I told him it was the radio and that I was waiting for the price of CD players to come down. About a week later, a package was delivered by messenger to me and it contained a brand new portable CD player from the retired doctor.

I also needed some new stereo speakers. I couldn't rely on the good doctor for those, however. But, as luck would have it, while I was pricing speakers off and on for a few weeks, another tenant vacated a house, and what did he leave behind? You got it, a pair of rather large, not too terribly fancy, but much better sounding speakers than the ones I had.

Many of my life's coincidences occurred while traveling, something I used to do quite often, both for business and pleasure. Mexico seems to be an extremely fruitful place as far as coincidences are concerned. In Oaxaca in 1983, I met a man who I ended up traveling with for several days. He was a student at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California and he lived on Madison Street — the same street where my parents lived and where I spent my teen years. On one trip in November of 1987, I covered about ten or more cities, not on a tour of any kind either, and kept running into the same woman, a tourist from Oakland, California. While staying in the artist's community of Ajijic in 1988, I met an American woman who used to live at the Cadillac Hotel down the street from me in Venice, California before she moved to Ajijic. Her husband's ex-wife in Phoenix, Arizona was a client of mine from the horticultural industry. I went to the open air market in Guadalajara one year and ran into a woman who used to live down the hall from me in Venice Beach. In Zacatecas in 1990, I ran into a woman who had heard me speak at a conference the year before in Atlanta, Georgia. She came rushing up to me where I was sitting at an outdoor restaurant and remarked at what a small world it was.

Running into people I knew from the horticultural industry used to happen from time to time. I was having lunch in Paso Robles, California at an A & W drive-in with car-hop service because I was traveling with my cat and didn't want to leave her in a hot car. A man parked next to me, leaned out of his passenger window, and said, "I noticed your 'I Love Plants' bumper sticker." He paused waiting for my reply, but before I could swallow my mouthful, he interjected, "Wait, I know you, you write that Q-and-A column." I admitted that was me and asked if he had an interior landscape company in Paso Robles. He told me that he had an interior landscape company — in Austin, Texas. He was in Paso Robles for a wedding.

In 1988, I got a call from a man who read an article I wrote about developing your psychic ability. We chatted and he said he lived in Sacramento, California. I told him I was going to Sacramento the following weekend to visit a friend. He invited me to lunch "to talk ESP." As we ate, he mentioned, "My wife believes in talking to her plants and owns an interior landscape company." She turned out to be a long-time client of mine.

In 1989, I flew to New York City on business. I was also in the process of researching an idea for a short story involving a former nun, and I had read several books written by nuns and former nuns. Two nuns were on the plane, seated a few rows ahead of me. I wished I was sitting next to them! A few minutes later, a flight attendant asked if I would mind moving so that three passengers could sit together. The flight attendant moved me to the seat next to the nuns, with whom I chatted for the rest of the flight!

That same year, I had a three-and-a-half-hour layover in Chicago. My friend Karen was coming to visit with me at O'Hare. I was in a hurry to pick up my phone messages and make a couple calls before I went to meet up with Karen. She arrived late, and when I saw her, she was accompanied by two men. I walked up to the trio and Karen said, "I just ran into my brother-in-law and my nephew here." She started to introduce us, but the surprised brother-in-law interrupted saying, "We've met before. I'm Dan the Tree Man and we met at a landscape industry show a few years ago in Long Beach [California]."

Venice, California must be a common place for people to live at some time in their life and it seems like my little street was a pretty popular one. I was on the Amtrak train going from Portland, Oregon to Centralia, Washington to visit my aunt in the fall of 1991. Seated across from me was a woman with whom I played cards. When I told her I lived in Venice Beach, she said, "Oh, I used to live in Venice on Dudley Avenue." I told her that I lived at 30 Dudley. She said, "I used to live in a studio apartment at 44 Dudley. Did you ever know a woman named Andi who lived in your building?" I told her that Andi had lived in the apartment below me for almost a year and that she and I used to play scrabble together. She said, "I'm on my way to visit her right now. She lives in Tacoma." I was going to be in Tacoma, Washington after I left the Centralia area.

Not all coincidences that happen involve me directly. In 1984, my friend Ron and I went to Napa on the spur of the moment. His family owned dairies in France and he had been trying to reach a dairy owner in Wisconsin for several days. At the winery we chatted with an older couple who had come to California, also on the spur of the moment. Ron asked what line of business the man was in and he replied that he owned the dairy in Wisconsin that Ron had been trying to reach. Ron was dumbfounded, and when he introduced himself, the man said, "My marketing manager just suggested that we contact you."

In 1978, while standing in the barbecue line at an antiques fair in San Juan Bautista, California, my mother told me about Agnes, the mother-in-law of a family friend's daughter. Mom had met her briefly, liked her, and wanted to know her better. We got our food and headed for the nearest picnic table with room to sit at. Right across the table from us was Agnes. She and my mother became best friends and, unfortunately, they both died of cancer within a month of each other in 1986.

My mother and I were in a resale shop in Monterey, California. Agnes showed up and the three of us were talking while we rummaged through the clothing racks. The manager showed up, and when she heard Agnes' Oklahoma accent, she said she also came from Oklahoma. It turned out that they both came from the same little town in the middle of nowhere and had actually gone to the same one-room schoolhouse, about three years apart.

I could go on and on with these kinds of stories, and if I were to include all the similar kinds of stories I've heard from other people they would fill a very large book. Whoever thinks we aren't all connected in some way is very much mistaken. It's a small world because we are meant to see and meet and become acquainted with, or friends with, certain people. If I didn't believe that, I would think everything was mere happenstance and not something as sophisticated as synchronicity in action.

This article last updated: 10/19/2011.