Collision of Meaningful Coincidences

The theory that attracted me to my ideas about this paper is Jae’s theory of openness, which posits that the more open a person is in the process of communication, the more creative that person will be when it comes to solving problems. Much of life, as we know, is about learning to solve certain problems that arise. Hence, according to this theory, the key to finding answers to things that puzzle us and stand in our way is learning openness in communication that leads to creativity and problem solving.

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Communication Creates a Collision of Meaningful Coincidences

A couple summers ago (in 2010) I was driving to San Diego on Interstate 8 with a couple friends for a holiday away from my home in Houston, Texas, and the odometer in the 8-year-old Ford was 88,880. I remember that because one of my friends asked how many miles were on this car. I looked down and saw that it was nearing 88,880, which was interesting to me but I didn’t really know why. “Let’s see what happens along the freeway when it gets to all eight’s,” my friend Paul said. I asked why, and he said he was fascinated with coincidences. He went on to explain what he had studied in a psychology class from this “real cool” instructor, Ms. Bakula.

“Some coincidences have special meanings,” I recall him saying, and we began a good, open line of communication about synchronicity, quantum physics, and the paranormal. Paul, who was sitting shotgun, explained that some coincidences may be more meaningful than mere coincidence. I remember he talked about psychologist Carl Jung and a guy named Arthur Koestler, and he explained the ins and outs of synchronicity. It was one of the most intellectual conversations we had ever engaged in. I was a business major and had not taken any psychology classes but I was learning to be open-minded in my communication interactions; I respected Paul, whose father was a doctor and his mother was an environmental attorney.

As buddies hanging out we almost always talked about football, women, our parents and some of the crazy things we did. We were typical young men at nineteen years of age, not really totally socially mature but old enough to question what we had learned in our first years in community college in Texas. About the time Phil in the back seat asked me to turn the radio up, I saw that the odometer was about to turn to 88,888. And just at the exact second it turned to all 8’s, a sign on Interstate 8 read, “San Diego — 88 Miles.”

“That was synchronicity!” Paul shouted. “How else to you explain the coincidence we just witnessed?” He went on to talk about Carl Jung’s discoveries and he couldn’t stop talking because that road sign really energized him; he had a perfect example that we all experienced and it made him proud that he knew something of value he could share with his buddies.

In hindsight, the communication we had prior to seeing that road sign led me to a greater understanding of the value of being open to fresh thoughts and ideas. Heath & Bryant (p. 49) explain that communication “…is a process or set of actions by which people share symbols as they create meaning through interaction.” We created meaning at that moment.

We stayed in a motel near the beach in a San Diego community called “Pacific Beach.” The beach was about 2 miles long, a beautiful stretch of sand and I was eager to get out early our first morning and do a power walk at low tide (I never liked running, but power walking was an ideal way for me to stay in shape because I was a guard on our intramural basketball league team). After the first day’s walk I had a blister on my left foot. I had one band-aid in my shaving kit and I used it to cover the blister. I guess I wasn’t tying my Nike shoes tight enough because on my power walk the next day, I could feel that another blister emerging on my right foot. I could tell the band-aid on my first blister needed replacing too. As I walked up the sand to the boardwalk, I said out loud (to no one because I was alone), “Now I am going to need two band-aids!” I swear this is true: I walked about 20 or 25 feet on the boardwalk towards our motel room and there in the dust were two band-aids! One was the size to cover my first blister, and the other was a bit smaller, perfect for my new blister. Both were unopened, and although they were almost hidden in the dirt and dust of the empty boardwalk, they were the exact precise size to cover the blisters. The communication I had enjoyed with my bright friend Paul on the way to San Diego was somehow bringing me creative solutions for my blister issue.

“Communication as a process,” Jae’s book explains on page 55. There is no end and no beginning, there are “separate and on-going episodes, each of which might be partially but not entirely unique,” Jae writes.

Meanwhile, the story of communication, synchronicity and creative solutions continues as we fast-forward to autumn, 2010. After a social studies class in which we were discussing terrorism, we went into the cafeteria for a sandwich. The television was still turned on, and pretty loud too I remember. A friend named Jason, who was in my social studies class, sat down with me and asked me what, in hindsight, I thought about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I quickly repeated what I had heard a pundit on CNN say, “It was really just a wake-up call,” I said, and at the split second after I finished saying that, a voice on the television barked, “Wake-up call! Wake-up call!”

Jason and I looked at each other incredulously. The local channel was playing a commercial for an automated service that wakes people up by calling their phone at a previously arranged time. But it was eerie to have that happen, and I communicated to Jason what I had learned over the summer on my trip to San Diego. After I had returned from San Diego I went online and read (in Google Books) Carl Yung’s description of synchronicity, and I was in total acceptance of Yung’s experiences and of his theories. Jason related a story to me that his sister had shared with him that had synchronicity and communication written all over it.

Jason’s eyes got big when he recalled that his sister had fallen asleep with the television on in her college apartment. When she awoke in the night, the Discovery Channel was on, the volume was a bit loud (which woke her up) and the reentry of a space shuttle into earth’s atmosphere was playing. The video of the fire and wild sparks from reentry on TV seemed almost too real to her, because in fact the curtains were partially open on the window directly behind the television and there were actual, live sparks flying past the window just like in the Discovery feature on the space shuttle. “The apartment unit next to hers was on fire,” Jason said excitedly. His sister called 911, put on her robe, and woke the others in the apartment complex.

We communicated about synchronicity, finished our sandwiches, and ever since that day Jason and I have had a closer friendship; we share instances of “meaningful coincidences” (that’s the way Jung described synchronicity) often, and he is mentoring me in tennis, a game I never thought I would be interested in. During most of the great discussions we have, we challenge each supposed instance of synchronicity to try and determine if each one was really a meaningful coincidence, or just a fluke, a twist of fate or otherwise just an accidental coming together of chance and serendipity. ‘

Sometimes I think the meaningful coincidences are also related to karma. An example I can use to illustrate the karma part of synchronicity happened in the summer of 2011. I am not a bigot and I don’t put down people who have physical or intellectual disabilities, but I was taking a girl on a date to a move at the dollar movie house in Houston. I had been there several times before and every time the concession service was terrible. Just getting some popcorn and a coke meant dealing with long lines and sluggish employees. As I pulled into the parking lot I warned my date that the concession stand was very slow; “You have to be a member of Special Olympics to work here,” I said sarcastically. The sound of my voice saying that was a bit strange because it’s not like me to make wise cracks about disabilities.

Two weeks later I went to a Houston Astros game at Minute Maid Park. I always go early to catch batting practice; I like to go into the left field bleachers to possibly grab a batting practice home run. On this day, a long homer was hit close to me and it bounced around in the empty seats. I tried to grab it but I missed it and fell hard on the concrete. Suddenly I heard laughter, loud, enthusiastic laughter from several people a few rows behind where I was struggling to get up off the floor. When I stood up, and turned to the back to see who was laughing at my clumsy attempt to grab a batting practice home run, I realized that the laughter was coming from a group of Special Olympians. They had been taken to the ball park by their supervisors for a day of hot dogs, baseball, and fun. Was this my karma coming back at me for making that wise crack about the workers at the concession stand? Was this synchronicity intended to teach me a lesson?

I went up and shook hands with each person in that row, as a way of saying I was sorry for making a stupid remark about people who don’t deserve to be made fun of. I told Jason and Paul about that experience and they both agreed: a) I had been stupid to make a comment belittling Special Olympians; and b) the synchronicity was karma-related, teaching me a lesson.

Communication as a process entails “…separate and on-going episodes,” according to Jae’s book. Each of those episodes “…might be partially but not entirely unique, but affect subsequent behaviors/acts.” Clearly my communication with Paul that summer opened my eyes to a world I hadn’t thought much about at all. And I know I have become a more creative person since the 88,888 incident, the band-aid episode, and the other things that have happened along the lines of meaningful coincidences. In fact, I’m thinking of switching my major to psychology.