Coincidence or fate?

Recently, I was invited to a private luncheon to meet The New Yorker columnist Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink, The Tipping Point, Outliers, and What the Dog Saw. Gladwell’s favorite topic is coincidence – what appears to be luck or happenstance is not either, from his macro-viewpoint. I’ve savored his books, so it was a thrill to be invited to the VIP reception following his conference keynote address in Milwaukee … which made it very hard to say “sorry” and then send someone else.

I’d already promised my husband that I would drive to St. Louis that day. He was flying there on business and we had plans to then drive to Illinois to see my Uncle Gene and make sure the tombstone on my brother’s grave was as I had ordered. We had family business to attend to, in other words. (And, since this would be our first getaway together all year, we had a little monkey business penciled in, too.)

At another point in my career, I probably would have made a different choice. I would have still believed, then, that personal schedules were flexible and professional schedules fragile. But now, having climbed the career hill high enough, and having been a parent and wife and friend long enough, I’ve gained sufficient perspective to realize that the reverse is true.

And here is the unexpected coincidence that happened on that road trip: Kevin and I were filling time before meeting my uncle and his “lady friend” for dinner by strolling downtown Macomb, Ill., when Kevin said he wanted to go into a pet store “just to look.” We saw several cages filled with cute little puppies all eager to be adopted, but since we already had three dogs at home with a dog-sitter, we were not inclined to do so. But then I noticed a cage way up high, and climbed on a step stool to see the little puppy huddled in the cage’s corner.

“You have to see this little guy,” I told my husband. “He’s different than the rest.”

He climbed up and peeked inside. “Yep, he is the one we’ve been looking for,” Kevin said. “Let’s buy him.”

I didn’t actually realize that a dog was missing, but when I then held the little 13-week-old fox terrier, I understood, too, that this dog was ours, somewhat impatiently waiting for us to claim him. So we did, with a promise to the pet store owner that we’d pick him up the next morning after checking out of our hotel room.

“Let’s name him Gene, in honor of your uncle,” Kevin suggested.

I did not believe that my uncle would be honored to have a dog named after him, but Gene actually encouraged it when we told him about the puppy over dinner.

“Bring him to my house tomorrow before you go back to Madison,” my uncle urged. “I wanna meet my little namesake, and he can play with my little dog, Eve.”

So we did, and guess what? Gene’s dog is our dog’s sister. Same spot markings and same parentage. Uncle Gene bought Eve directly from the Amish breeder who sold ours to the pet store. She’s an identical, older version of our dog.

How’s that for a weird coincidence?

Malcolm Gladwell might deduce that my uncle and I have the same proclivity to a certain breed because of some sociological familial tie, but then I would tell him that I also own a small Pomeranian, a large chocolate lab/pit bull mix, and a good-sized papillon/collie dog. I have no preferences when it comes to dogs – I like them all.

Gladwell might then suggest several other reasons that little Gene was in that pet store and that our paths crossed at that moment, and he’d deduce why little Gene is exactly what Uncle Gene also chose.

I hope the day comes back around when I have a chance to meet Malcolm Gladwell. But between now and then, I believe little Gene is gnawing on my socks and peeing on our rugs because he belongs with us. Like Gladwell, I believe it was more than coincidence that I listened to my heart, drove to St. Louis, and passed up one opportunity of a lifetime for another one.

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