Why do things happen the way they do?

What are you reading these days?

For book-lovers, this is a welcome question. It’s one we ask our friends all the time, and one we love to have asked of us. Books are amazing things. They transport us to other places, open up vistas of information, ideas and experiences, and invite us to contemplate alternate points of view. I love to read, and I love to talk about what I’m reading, and find out what my friends are reading, and what they are thinking about as they read… But more about reading later.

Isn’t it strange when that happens?

First I want to talk about going out for lunch, with my friends Laurie and Shannon. On Sunday, I met up with two good friends at one of our favourite spots, Taps and Tacos in Port Moody. The lunch date had been in the works for months. Jobs, travel, and a new baby for Shannon had conspired to delay this meeting. Finally, we were out together, enjoying hand-made tortilla chips and a trio of salsas. My friend Laurie remarked that she had gone out just the day before, with another friend, for nachos. She talked about the Mexican snack theme for the weekend, and also on a theme of reconnecting with good friends after a long time apart. Laurie and her friend had not seen one another in over a year. When she called her friend, she found out that they were each thinking of one another at the same time. Isn’t it strange when that happens? You are thinking of someone, and they call or text you at that moment. I think it happens to all of us. It makes me wonder: Is there some deep cause for when this happens? Or is it purely coincidence?

This thought takes me back to books and reading. I read a lot of fiction. For me, stories are not just entertainment or escape. A good book opens up a world beyond my everyday experience. It makes me think about relationships and realities other than my own. Almost always, it connects to something that’s happening for me in “real life.”

I was reminded of how easy it is to jump to a conclusion about someone, based on a first impression

Recently I read A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. It’s a story of a middle-aged man who lives alone. Ove is grumpy and judgmental, and has a complaint about everything. When I began reading the story, I wondered what it would be like, to find everything irritating, and to crave nothing more than escape from life itself. Sounds pretty grim? It’s actually filled with humour. As I read, I discovered the story behind Ove’s grey existence, and I grew to love his character, and to root for him to fail in his determination to adhere to a dim view of everything and everyone. I was reminded of how easy it is to jump to a conclusion about someone, based on a first impression. Translated from Swedish, and told in short chapters with really funny titles, the story tells how Ove is coaxed out of his self-isolation, by people who insist on not seeing him as just a grumpy old man. Reading it inspired me to check my own judgments about people who appear to take a dim view. There’s always more to the story.

The very next book I read happened to be Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a novel by Gail Honeyman. This is the story of a woman who is a lot like Ove. Eleanor lives alone, has no real friends, and struggles with social interaction. Her perception of social situations, and her decisions about what to say and how to act are frequently disastrous. Early in the story, there are hints of something awful that happened to her earlier in her life. It’s a potentially grim story, but it’s told with tenderness and humour. Eleanor’s story unfolds, and her life experiences are revealed. Other people in the story see something about her that is worth knowing. They stick around, even when she does her best to push them away so she can stay isolated. It’s a great story, and inspired me again to be curious and open to people who may be difficult to know, and awkward to get along with.

That was weird. These two characters had so much in common. I chose the books at random, but they were remarkably similar. How did that happen?

The movie convinced me to think again about the people who live on the fringe of society

Finally, I got around to watching Joker – the movie. I never watch movies based on Marvel or DC, and I prefer not to watch violent entertainment. But I was encouraged by Michael Moore in his podcast Rumble to see this movie. It’s the story of Arthur Fleck, a social outcast, who is beaten down by the world. His life experiences are horrifying. They take him to the place where he discovers his alternate identity as a super-villain. He goes on to create and inspire horrific behaviour himself. The story is very dark, very violent, and almost relentlessly pessimistic. But it showed me the heart of a person, and explained how he came to such a dark place. Like the stories I read, the movie convinced me to think again about the people who live on the fringe of society. It asked me to adjust my view towards respect, curiosity and humanity. Joker was incredibly powerful, and has stayed with me in a way that most movies do not.

Two books and a movie, all experienced within days of one another, presented me with the same message and impulse, to be more open, curious, and accepting of people who seem impossible to know or love. I’m thinking a lot about these stories, and the message that I took away from them.

Is there a pattern to life experiences that comes from some greater purpose?

I am also thinking about how things seem to happen together – like eating Mexican food twice in one weekend, or re-uniting with a longtime friend who is thinking about you at the same time you are thinking of her. Why did the two stories and the movie all arrive for me at the same time? Was it just a coincidence? Or is there a pattern to life experiences that comes from some greater purpose? Sometimes things happen in ways that they seem just too powerful to be random.

I think that different people have different explanations for why things happen the way they do. Some would attribute synchronism to a greater power, something or someone who puts meaningful experiences purposefully in our path. Some might say that nature is like that – constantly revealing symmetry and connection. Others would say that it’s just coincidence, and that even the chaos of everyday life yields patterns from time to time. I’m sure there are many more explanations that just haven’t occurred to me yet.

My sense-making mind looks for patterns and connections, and it finds the ones that have meaning for me today

I like to think it’s about human nature, and the way we perceive and organize our experiences. So much happens around us, there is so much information and sensation, every minute of our lives, we have to make sense of it somehow. For me, when things happen all in a “clump” of similar meaning, I think about it as having to do with my own receptiveness. My sense-making mind looks for patterns and connections, and it finds the ones that have meaning for me today. I think that I pick the pattern and meaning based on what’s happening in the moment – the questions I am pondering in my own life, the space for meaning that I am wanting to fill just now. So Ove, and Eleanor, and Arthur convey similar meaning to me because I’m ready for the specific message that I find when I think about them. I like to think I am kind and accepting of others. But are there some who I categorize or judge or avoid because they are awkward, standoffish or difficult to connect with? Can I find hidden goodness in them and in myself if I readjust my thinking to be more patient, curious, attentive, and respectful? This is something that I am open to right now.

I do love books, and movies, and conversations with friends about life’s coincidences. And I love yoga. Each hour on my mat offers peace, courage, community, and reassurance that the world is a wonderful complicated place, and I’m part of it. I love that I can share book recommendations and muse on the meaning of life’s experiences. Sometimes this is just to myself, sometimes with someone who just spent an hour on their mat in the hot room.

What are you reading these days? What did it mean to you?

Thanks for considering my thoughts. Let’s share the patterns that we notice in the world around us, and talk about why things happen the way they do. I’m curious to know what it means to you.