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Serendipity (all over again)

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Sunday, Aug 3, 2008


As a deeply-committed peripatetic, I recognize the indispensible role that serendipity plays in travel. In fact, eight times out of seven, it is serendipity—rather than deep ratiocination or meticulous planning—that is going to determine whether the day’s foray will ultimately be deemed successful or not.

Others might call it “happenstance”, or “luck”, or “fortune”—good or bad. But whatever name you attach to it, it is something that travelers have to get used to; we voyagers can’t live without it. Nor would we want to . . . since serendipity is what makes the journey so pleasureable; so deep-meaningful.


Even when it is not. Which is what I will explain next . . .

  



It wasn’t the case that when I encountered the sign (before the jump, to the left) a few days back, the thought immediately sprang into my head “ah—serendipity!” But certainly after what came next—in piecing together the story of how what came before the encounter with the sign led to what came after the encounter with the sign—“serendipity” was the word that best explained it all.


It (sort of) began with the reality of the sign, unfolded on the train platform that was about 120 yards below and to the southwest of my hotel on the woody isle known as Lidingö.


 


And that reality was complemented by a prior beginning—one based on the reality of negation. That is to say, the recognition that that sign had not been there but 14 minutes before (when I had first been there). It was because of the appearance of that sign (where before it had not existed as a part of my lived reality) that everything else happened. Because of the appearance of that sign all else followed.


Got it?


Well, if not, reduce it all to “serendipity” and call the whole thing even.


The explanation itself is more complicated that the phrase that we reduce the events to. To appreciate or understand the whole affair . . . well, that will take a bit of explaining. So, here goes . . .


 



The reason that I knew that the sign had not been there 14 minutes prior was because I had been standing there, then—only to realize, just as the in-bound train was making its in-coming clackety-clack noises from around the bend, that the bag on my shoulder was much lighter than I was accustomed to. And that because I had only the bag which generally fit inside the


other

bag; the larger bag—carrying my much-needed wallet and trusty camera and assorted essential nutrients (gum and fruit and water) and navagatory maps and in-between tasks reading material—sitting plump and abandoned (but hopefully expectant) somewhere on a chair or table or floor of my vacated hotel room.


To which I now had to retrace my steps—before the next in-bound train was scheduled to come clackety-clacking from around the bend, in 21 minutes or less.


And if the train I had now missed had then gone on to plummet off the trestle and plunge into the water’s depths, we would have had our Ian Thorpe moment: the blind-great luck that saves the unknowing sole from perishing in one of fate’s unpredictable misfortunes.


(Melodramatic, fantasy-riven, me).



Back on the platform, both bags in hand, it wasn’t exaclty clear


what

the sign that had not been there when I left to fetch my bag (but now was) was saying. But after snapping a picture of it (“Hey, that’s cute . . . let me just take a shot of that. Maybe I can find a place for it on the blog”), then pacing back and forth as the 10:52’s arrival time came and went, I started to think a bit more about that sign. As in: “what do you suppose that big X across the face of the object that looks . . . remarkably . . . like . . . a train . . . might mean?”


Which is about the time that I became aware of the elderly couple standing at the crossing, watching me as I regarded the mysterious sign, then audibly (if not intentionally-past-normal-decibally) conferring with one another:


“That guy over there is waiting for the 10:52.”
“Well, he’s missed the 10:52.”
“Must be he’s waiting on the 11:15.”
“Well, he’s going to miss that one, too. Can’t he see that trains aren’t running now? They’re out of service.”
“Maybe he can’t read the sign.”
“How could he not be able to read it? It’s in pictures!”
“Maybe there are no trains where he comes from. Or buses. Maybe he doesn’t understand that he has to go get the bus.”
“Maybe he thinks he’ll just wait it out, until the trains start running again. Maybe he doesn’t believe in serendipity.”




Whenever I think about serendipity, I can’t also help thinking of Yogi Berra, or at least that quote attributed to the New York Yankee’s catcher, who was also a major league pitcher of malapropisms. Yeah, I know, you are thinking that he was author of so many that you can’t immediately know which one I might be referring to. Of course, there is “it ain’t over til its over”—which probably will endure in American sporting lexicon as long as games are played—but, Berra also donated such gems as:


  • “the future ain’t what it used to be”
  • “you can observe a lot by watching”
  • “a nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore”,
  • “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is”
  • “baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical”

and one that ought to be the official slogan in the peripatetic‘s creed:


  • “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

But Yogi’s most (in)famous misstatement certainly has to be “it’s deja vu, all over again”.


And when I travel—as I brush up against the inexorably upcropping of serendipity—it is Yogi’s phrase that always rears its head. Because serendipity strikes me at near about every turn. And rather than plan against it, rather than try to engineer a future that excludes it, I openly embrace it. For (at the risk of repeating myself) it is what makes the journey fuller; more fulfilling, meaningful.


But for serendipity, the stories that accumulate would lack lustre; they would have less of a shine.


For instance, without the bag left behind, the long trek back to my hotel room high on the hill, but for the decision by some transit chief, and the intervention of some linesman who set out his unfurled “out of service” placcard, I would have boarded the 10:52. And missed everything else.


The everything that lay down the road I traversed; the scenes that I then became witness to. The serendipity into whose sure arms I was delivered.


  1. The stunning Stockholm sky; and
  2. the perfect coalescence of independent formations of concrete and steel;  

     


  3. the sign (to the left) announcing which-a-way into town;


  4. and the sign (to the right) reminding folks which side of the road to sling to (and why);


     


  5. the quiescent harbor, giving berth to two craft passing in the light of day: 


     


  6. the patterns formed of churning water, shadow and sun: 


     


  7. and the many fisherman who devote their mid-mornings to claiming edible prizes from the depths. Arranging poles that don’t require tending:


     


  8. and casting those that do:


     


  9. communicating in ill-matched languages, uttered in irregular chronicity;


  10. that found one moment of perfect consonance, after a net was lowered, and one of the magnificent rainbow trout that rule this inlet was snared . . .


     


  11. hauling it up - up - up through the air, to settle on the inhospitable concrete that would soon become the beast’s impromptu grave.


     


  12. amongst an unsympathetic congregation, whose only concern was how long they would have to tolerate the final protests of life, raging against the inevitability of death.


     


To the delight of some, and the mortification of others.


 



As one of the mortified, I still must confess that this was a case of serendipity, all over again. A rush of recognition that a committed peripatetic is fully familiar with. And craves.


For, it is serendipity that makes the journey worthwhile; unlike déjà vu, it is serendipity that reminds us that each moment is unique. It is serendipity that shakes us out of our daily trances; serendipity that ultimately convinces us—without any doubt—that we are alive. (Even, unfortunately—or perhaps because—through serendity we witness death).


In many respects, it is serendipity that we travel to experience; it is serendipity that we seek. Again and again.


All over again.


 



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