A theory about the “small world” phenomenon + an amazing update on the essay story

Posted February 17, 2012 11:00 am  


 As preamble, I need to mention that our female horseback riding guide, the podiatrist’s tie-dyed wife, complained at length about her ex for the five days we spent together. She described her former husband as detestable, having lost a bitter child custody struggle with him. A furniture maker, the man made the comfortable, native-styled chairs that were scattered about our hotel. We learned that our tie-dyed guide and her new husband were planning to sell their riding business when, on the last day, the buyer accompanied us to learn the ropes.

Twenty-some years later, my husband and I were at an outdoor jazz concert in Havana, Cuba and happened to strike up a conversation with the friendly, gregarious man seated next to us. Where was he from? Belize? What was his line of work? Furniture making. Who was he? None other than the much maligned ex-husband! Hearing that we’d met his ex, the man related the sequel to his family’s personal soap. The ex-wife, along with the podiatrist, who he claimed had something of a criminal history, had left Belize for Florida and taken the children from the country illegally. It took the man several years and tens of thousands of dollars to track down and regain custody of his children.


Perhaps meeting a family from our neighborhood at a small, remote riding facility was not so extraordinary. The similarities in our choices of where to live and the coincidence of our children’s ages no doubt predisposed us to choosing the same holiday destination. But what are the odds of sitting next to a man we’d only heard of 20 years earlier, at a concert to which we’d each had to travel from very different and distant places? I can only conclude that these sorts of coincidences happen all the time–we just never have the chance to know about them. With lives so rich in varied experience, the opportunities for odd-ball interconnections must be incalculably numerous. Every day, we may pass in the street the cousin of a child with whom we went to school or our lawyer’s nephew or the husband of a woman who once nursed us after surgery. We just have no reason to discover the connections.


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