Write a novel in which the plot is dependent on a coincidence and every creative writing teacher, editor, and critic will gleefully shred your work. And yet...coincidence is so much a part of life.
A number of years ago, I was standing on a line with my sister, who was enrolling at Georgetown University. We struck up a conversation with the girl just ahead of us in line, and she said she was from Argentina. "Oh," I said without thinking how silly it was, "I know a man from Argentina." I mentioned his name as my sister said, "Don't be ridiculous," as the girl said, "Oh, I used to date him."
A few years later, my husband and I were attending the Orange Bowl game in Miami, in which Nebraska (his alma mater) was playing. Waiting for the game to start, we began talking with a couple sitting next to us. Bill explained that he was from Nebraska, and one of them said they were from Michigan. "What part?" I asked.
"Oh, it's a very small town. You'd never have heard of it."
"But what's its name?" I pressed.
Capac, a town of about 1,500 people, was my sister-in-law's hometown. It turned out the couple sitting next to us knew my sister-in-law, and had had her parents as teachers in high school.
But the biggest coincidence in my life is far more complex than that.
It started in 1962 when I was scheduled to go to Colorado over the Fourth of July weekend to take an economics seminar. That spring, I developed abdominal pains. I thought it was appendicitis, and the doctor concurred. He put me in the hospital and operated only to find a healthy appendix, but an benign ovarian tumor the size of a grapefruit. He removed my appendix, the tumor, all of one ovary, and most of the other. I had to postpone the seminar until the Labor Day weekend; had I not, I would not have met the man I later married.
In June of 1972, my 25-year-old sister had a complete physical examination and was pronounced in perfect health. In August, she began having abdominal pain and severe indigestion. She had never looked better in her life, but she was feeling rotten, so she went to the same doctor I'd seen 10 years earlier. He diagnosed a tumor and said surgery was necessary. She had no health insurance, so she sought a second opinion from a gynecologist, who confirmed the diagnosis and operated on October 11. She had an ovarian tumor that was malignant, and she died on May 7, 1973, three years and one day after my father died (May 6, 1970).
My husband and I had been trying to have a baby for seven years with no luck (not surprising, given my medical history), and in June, I went to the gynecologist who done my sister's surgery for a test to determine if I could become pregnant. It was one of those tests that shoots dye up through your plumbing and shows what's inside on a monitor. The test clearly showed a blockage that would make it impossible for me to get pregnant.
In August, I missed a period. I dismissed it as a result of the emotional upheaval of losing my sister. But I missed in September, as well, so I decided I'd better see the gynecologist. I took the first appointment that was available, which turned out to be October 11. I didn't realize the coincidence of the date until my mother pointed it out later. The doctor confirmed that I was pregnant (apparently the test itself had cleared the blockage) and went running through the office shouting, "It's a mitzvah, it's a mitzvah." October 11 was a Jewish holiday.
He gave me a due date of May 4, which meant my pregnancy would parallel my sister's illness of the previous year. I knew, however, there was no way that baby would be born on May 4. I was convinced it would be a boy born May 6 and be my father reincarnated, or a girl born May 7 and be my sister reincarnated.
Johnny was born May 6 and is very like my dad in the way his mind works and in odd little gestures he had never seen.
If you wrote that as fiction, you'd be laughed out of the business. But, then, as someone once pointed out, fiction has to make sense; life doesn't.