The word serendipity traces back to a Persian fairy tale about The Three Princes of Serendip who were “always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of.” (Wikipedia)
However, it has come to mean something a little less vigorous, something in the area of synchronicity, with perhaps a tad greater complexity, and I’d like to bring the first sense of the word back… the sense of the word that emphasizes a deliberate openness, lively intention, and even love.
A beautiful example arrived to my Instagram feed this morning, in the form of a story about a woman who offered to find a home for a dog that reminded her of the puppy she had to let go of as a child. The affection and attachment the dog expressed for her was so uncanny that she eventually contacted the Humane Society to research the chip number and, guess what!
Yes, Same dog!
I mean, I burst into tears. Not just because of, “Wow! What a beautiful reunion!”, but at sheer wonder over all the hidden factors it took to bring about this highly rare circumstance. Also, I couldn’t stop musing on the idea that if the dog hadn’t been recognized, the connections may never have been known, would have fallen to waste.
I was also deeply affected because of George the Dachshund, who came into our family a few years ago and transformed us in incredible ways!
It took a conspiracy of happenings, bridging many years and changes, connections, and impossible odds, to bring such a situation about, fueled by a mysterious energy. Perhaps, a very pure and tender love?
Inspired, here are a few meanings for serendipity I found.
- a “fortunate or happy unplanned coincidence” (Wikipedia)
- “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a satisfactory or beneficial way, understanding the chance as any event that takes place in the absence of any obvious project (randomly or accidentally), which is not relevant to any present need, or in which the cause is unknown.”
(New Oxford Dictionary of English/ Wikipedia)
- “Happy accident” is a phrase I especially like. It reminds me of comments actors made after working with David Lynch, who often incorporates mistakes that happen during filming into his work.
- the ability to make fortunate discoveries accidentally.
(New York Times – an article that is a little ranty but has great gems like a moment with Tom Wolfe expressing late in life open-heartedness)
- a blend of chance and agency (The Economist)
And I was super surprised to find that serendipity has been taken as an object of serious inquiry by sociologists and business persons, even scientists. But a key point in those focuses has to do with the effort and preparation of the seeker(s), in creating an atmosphere that includes possibilities for surprise.
- “Innovations presented as examples of serendipity have an important characteristic: they were made by individuals able to “see bridges where others saw holes” and connect events creatively, based on the perception of a significant link.” (Wikipedia)
- The history of scientific discovery is peppered with breakthroughs that came about by accident. The most momentous was Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin in 1928, prompted when he noticed how a mould that floated into his Petri dish killed off the surrounding bacteria.Spencer and Fleming didn’t just get lucky. Spencer had the nous and the knowledge to turn his observation into innovation; only an expert on bacteria would have been ready to see the significance of Fleming’s stray spore. As Louis Pasteur wrote, “In the field of observation, chance favours only the prepared mind.” >snip< These days, we tend to associate serendipity with luck, and we neglect the sagacity. But some conditions are more conducive to accidental discovery than others. (The Economist, 2012)
One might hear resonances with Picasso’s oft quoted,
“Inspiration exists, but must find you working.”
What I’ve left out so far, are personal experiences of serendipity, but introducing this topic is just the second part part of a continuing exploration of time/timelessness I’ll continue, and continue writing about. What I suspect is that so many meaningful stories in one’s life can be read serendipitously when looking back, but are hard to capture right as they are unfolding.
See Picasso? I’m working, I’m working!
Added to on March 16th: Serendipity, Take 2