Serendipity is one of my all-time favorite words. Actually, it’s probably not the word so much as the things that happen to me that the word describes.
According to vocabulary.com, serendipity — good luck in finding valuable things quite by accident — does not come from Latin or Greek but was created by a British nobleman from an ancient Persian fairy tale. It refers to characters who were always making happy discoveries through chance.
One of my favorite serendipitous episodes actually happened to a buddy of mine when we were touring the world famous Louvre Museum in Paris in 1998. While my gaze was riveted on the Mona Lisa and other masterpieces by Rembrandt and Raphael and Eugene Delacroix, my buddy kept staring at this fellow across the way.
“I know that guy,” Kevin kept saying.
Finally, he figured out who it was, and he approached him.
“Hey, do you work out at the Syracuse YMCA every noon time?” he asked the man.
The fellow art — and apparently exercise — aficionado replied, “I sure do. I thought I recognized you!”
The funny thing is, they had never met each other in Syracuse while both were sweating away on their respective treadmills, but they had seen each other often enough at the Y to recognize one another there in Paris.
After the handshakes, the backslaps and the laughs died down, I thought about that a little more and tried to figure out all the things that had to have happened — to the guy from Syracuse and to my buddy — for that very chance meeting to have occurred. They both had to be in France at the exact same time (we were there for the World Cup soccer tournament); they both had to decide to tour the Louvre that day … at the exact same time; they both had to recognize one another among the hordes of people in the museum that day.
I mean, really, what were the odds?
I was reminded of that when I escorted my 88-year-old Dad to a holiday party last weekend. Dad lives with us here in Geneva now, but for the past few years lived in a senior apartment complex in Baldwinsville, and the folks there invited him back for their luncheon Sunday, which I thought was very sweet.
While there, he met a woman who lives in what had been his apartment, and she wanted to show it to him. While I was talking to her, she looked at me like she knew me, and she eventually asked what I did. When I told her I worked at the Finger Lakes Times, a light bulb went on, and she said, “That’s where I know you from, your photo in the paper!”
Turns out she was born in Geneva and spent most of her life in Waterloo. Those two facts are serendipitous enough — especially since she is now occupying Dad’s former place — but what she told me next was the clincher: She also spent time living in Warners.
Warners is a hamlet, not even a village, in Onondaga County in the town of Camillus. Its current population is about 2,400 people, which is probably an all-time high. The crazy thing is that my Mom grew up there! Her graduating class from Warners High School had about seven people in it. Seriously.
And the most serendipitous thing? When Mom and Dad first got married, they lived in Warners with Mom’s family. So it was like this woman who now is in Dad’s former apartment has lived in all the places he has!
Here, however, is my most cherished story of serendipity ever:
My sister grew up in Baldwinsville and always lived around Syracuse until a few years ago when her husband, forced to find a new job, landed one in Tampa, Florida. They moved to Dunedin, a city on the Gulf Coast about 25 miles west of Tampa, and my sister volunteered at an art gallery in Dunedin, primarily to start to meet people.
One day she started up a conversation with some visitors to the gallery and asked them where they were from. When they said “upstate New York,” she replied that she was too and then asked them whereabouts. They replied, Geneva.
“My brother lives in Geneva,” my sister replied.
“Who’s your brother?” one of the women asked.
“Mike Cutillo,” Teresa said.
“Mike Cutillo from the newspaper?” the woman replied. “I know him.”
Teresa was flabbergasted and couldn’t wait to tell me that story, and we both had a good laugh over it.
Interestingly, the woman — and I hope Janice Wright doesn’t mind me using her name here! — was part of a group trip to Italy that I organized four years ago. It made my sister quite jealous that Janice, the art gallery visitor, was able to travel to Tuscany and Umbria with us but Teresa was not.
Here is where this story comes full circle, however.
A few weeks ago, my Dad needed an overnight stay in Geneva General Hospital because of some dizziness (he’s OK, thankfully). He naturally had a conversation with the doctor who attended to him who told him, “I think my Mom knows your son.”
Dad told me that but could not remember the doctor’s name so I was unable to put two and two together. That is until the doctor called me to go over my Dad’s test results. His name: Dr. Christopher Wright. Yes, Janice’s son.
As I like to say, you can’t make this stuff up — or you could, but no one would believe it. Anyway, Dr. Wright and I had a nice chat about his Mom ... and our trip to Italy ... and oh, yes, about my Dad, too. “He’s really in pretty good shape, all things considered, for an 88-year-old man,” Dr. Wright told me. “Whatever he’s been doing for 88 years, tell him to keep it up.”
I will. And meanwhile, I also will try to keep up with all the serendipity around me.