„It kinda feels like I'm missing something!” he says and scans the pockets of his pants and jacket with both hands. The irritated wrinkles on his forehead abruptly turn into an expression of sheer terror, as he lifts his gaze and stares at me wide-eyed. „Oh shit, my backpack!” No way! I can hear my nerves, that have already been stretched to a braking point, cracking by yet one more piece of fiber. He has got to be kidding me! „Do you have his number?”, I ask my spouse in an angry tone, though I already know the answer. „No!” He begins fumbling around with his phone.
We are standing in front of the automated revolving doors that mark the entrance to the Hamburg airport. His brother's friends were nice enough to drop us off here on their way back to Munich. After our short excursion up north with his family, my husband and I want to take a brief trip down south to visit my family. Tomorrow finally we’ll be flying back to Canada (our current home). A very challenging venture as it is, but the fellow just had to top it off and forget his backpack!
In a car which belongs to a guy whose number we don't have and who we – even if we did – couldn't call anyway because our American provider has no service in Germany. I take a deep breath and try to flush out my rage with the consumed air. Throwing a tantrum won't help the situation. Meanwhile my cursing, anger elicitor tries to log on to the airport WiFi without success. I wield my backpack – yes, I for one have my backpack! – off my shoulder and start digging for my phone. How is it that you can never quickly find what you're looking for in women's purses? „Babe, can you please try, too?” the man's voice says beside me. „I'm looking!” I shove my tissues to the side for the third time now … where the hell is it? „Babe!” the voice calls, more obnoxious this time. „Dude, my phone's not here!” The realization hits me the moment I say it out loud … I couldn't … have possibly … left it in the car?! WHAM! Goodbye nerves … thanks for hanging in there! With a super, super guilty conscience I now stare into the eyes of my lover. Whoopsie.
At last! In light of our situation, the stubborn internet seems to feel bad for us. My honey – poor guy - gets a hold of his brother on WhatsApp, he calls his friend and his friend finally lets us know that he's already on his way back to the airport. Now let's just hope that my phone really did fall out of my pocket in his car … because if it didn't … it is currently located about 150 km further north … in a youth hostel …. that everybody has already departed from … and then we really have a problem!
We trudge back to the parking lot like a pair of drowned rats and wait. After what seems like an eternity (it really couldn't have been more than 15 minutes) we see the black backpack hanging from the arm stretched out the car window, leaping towards us in anticipation. The car stops, I open the back door - pray to all the Gods, Allahs and Krishnas out there and … thank God, Allah and Krishna! There on the back seat lies my little technical friend, slumbering in deep serenity.
I tie a mental knot into my nerves as we watch our knights in shining metal blend in with the sea of departing cars. We turn to enter the main hall of the airport. I grab this world's most beautiful hand and can't believe our luck. Had he not left his rucksack in the car I probably would not have noticed my phone was missing until we reached security. I raise my gaze to the sky and thank destiny for making my husband so forgetful.
That could not have been a coincidence!
This sentence has followed me around like a kind of external mantra over the past few years. I sit across from my friend, we're drinking beer, juice or hot chocolate and I listen to his unbelievable love story … had he only done this or that a hair differently, he never would have come across his new girl. Thank heavens there is this inexplicable magnetic attraction in the exponentially expanding universe that makes sure that in the right moment, two special people out of 7 Billion don't miss each other by 2 seconds. A day later my friend and I share some bacon and eggs, steak and pasta, and she tells me about her terrible break up. She emboldens herself. „It will all make sense eventually.” We toast and that's the end of it.
It's reassuring to believe that everything that happens to us.....bad or good….. doesn't just happen arbitrarily. Even if it doesn't answer the existential question (Why are we here?) and doesn't fully explain the meaning of life, it does at least unravel certain portions of it.
But I still haven't quite wrapped my finger around what happened in that parking lot in Hamburg. My human urge to fathom everything, takes over. I wish to get to the bottom of all the “That could not have been a coincidence”s and “It will all make sense in the end.”s
So, what exactly hides behind this great mystery that we so self-evidently call “fate”?
When typing into Google, it says: „The development of events outside a person's control, regarded as predetermined by a supernatural power.“ Fate can mean reaching the final point (he succumbed to his fate) or mean new beginnings (that was his destiny). It can be uncertainty (who knows what fate holds in store for me) or deliver a sense of security (to accept one’s fate).
In ancient Greek mythology, the Three Fates - Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos, also known as the Moirai - made the decisions about peoples' destinies – the crucial thread of life was spun by Clotho, handed out by Lachesis and cut in half by Atropos. They would follow a person throughout his life and with the counsel of the gods make him or her face the consequences of their actions. However, Zeus had the power to intervene if he chose to.
In many Germanic cultures, fate, which was a force they called „Wyrd“ or „Urd“, was equally shaped by a group, often times also a trio of strong female entities - the Norns carved the course of events in the cosmos, and people's lives into the base of the tree, Yggdrasil, which stood at the center of the cosmos. Even the gods themselves were subject to fate. There were no moral implications, evil plots or lessons to be learned in how the Norns chose to carve these scenarios. Ironically their decisions seemed oddly arbitrary.
Granted, we now disdainfully laugh about these ideas that are so far from our modern perception. But it's always a good idea to look at things in a different light and challenge your imagination a bit.
Me as a toddler, for example - I was extremely fascinated by the Holy Spirit. You can hear his name emerge every so often in a river of my incomprehensible jabbering on old vintage cassettes. Dadadayaya Holy Ghost kaaaaammbfff. The whole principle of an invisible force really did not make sense to me at all. It was perfectly clear in my mind: If Jesus was a man, and God was his father, the Holy Ghost must be some type of uncle. Just as tangible a person with a nose, a mouth and eyes, a halo crowning his head and surrounded throughout by a bright shining light.
Sometimes it is a good idea to perceive things from a different angle. So, let's pretend, just for fun, that Fate is an equally personified energy. And since the trinity … at least in my mind ... is very strong male domain, let's go back to those ancient mythologies and pretend, just for fun, that her name is Emma.
Good old Emma.
Our friendship reaches back multiple years now and it's absolutely wonderful - one of those friendships, where you don't have to stay in touch 24/7 to be on good terms with one another. We sometimes won't hear from each other for months and then suddenly out of the blue we run into each other and everything feels just like old times. Every once in a while, she'll ring through when I'm home or visit me at work. Our paths seem to cross most frequently while traveling.
Like on my Solo-trip to Rom a few years ago, for example.
I spent my first day bravely walking from one tourist attraction to the next, dying from the heat of
the Mediterranean sun. After I had gone through the mandatory notion of sticking my hand into the „Bocca della verità”, I lingered around an old ruin for a while - which upon closer inspection turned out to be a construction site - and finally grunted my way to the next attraction. As I reached my destination and spun the map back and forth in my hands, my sweatshirt as protective sun repellent dangling from my head, I suddenly heard the sound of my name ring through the babble of voices. „Sara, is that you?” I turned around and peered into the beaming face of an old friend of mine from Berlin. As it turned out, the Erasmus student was planning to enjoy her afternoon break in another park on the other side of town. She had changed her mind at the last minute and decided to spend it in a park close by. We hadn't seen or heard from each other in 2 years and now we were standing face to face smiling in disbelief in this bustling tourist epicenter.
Fast forward a year. I booked an excursion to London – once again by myself. I had initially planned to fly a few days earlier but for some reason I can't quite recall anymore, I had to push my flight back a few days. As I strolled across the airport to my gate, a way too expensive airport-breakfast-pretzel in my hand and delighted with anticipation – London Eye, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace … watch out, here I come! … a familiar face came marching right at me. No way! Regina had attended the same acting school in the class a year after me. I hadn't seen her in ages either, and yet here she was, standing in front of me, her sister to her right, her friend to her left and asked me with a huge grin on her face: „Are you taking the flight to London at 11, too?“
All I wanted was to travel to two places I had always wanted to visit and spend some time with myself. But in both cases I had two funny, unexpected encounters and the following days we spent together will always have a very special place in my heart. Thanks, Emma.
But at times Emma remains a mystery to me. There she goes through all the trouble of bringing my acquaintance and his, to that point unacquainted, neighbour together on the other side of the planet, and under hilarious circumstances. But then, she can't even get my neighbor's daughter to tie her shoes 3 seconds longer, so she leaves her house 3 seconds later and doesn't get hit by the truck that came speeding around the corner.
But anytime I try to mention this to her, she always says: „That wasn't me! That was Greta!” Oh yeah, Greta. Greta is Emma’s evil twin sister. She always happens to conveniently appear when Emma doesn't feel like it. Unlike Emma, Greta seems to enjoy playing more or less grave tricks on people. It is absolutely no pleasure having Greta around. She's what we would call „stupid coincidence” in everyday jargon. The slow line at the cashier, the forgotten keys, the overlooked bill.
Last time Greta and I bumped into each other, she distracted me with the sound of my phone ringing while I was clearing out the dishwasher. I turned my head for one second and that's all it took for a piece of my favorite cup to break off. I admit, that's no earth-shattering drama. It's a pain, yes, but nothing a little hot glue can't fix. There have been times though, when Greta put a stone under the snow where my friends were skiing, or out of the blue pushed a nervous beginner on the slope they were coming down on. The arm, the leg, that hip could not be patched up with just a bit of hot glue.
Thank god it looks like Emma and I seem to catch the travel bug at the same time … I don't even want to imagine who Greta would send my way … probably an ex-boyfriend with his new lover, or a loathed old teacher from high school. No, no, no … I definitely prefer Emma.
And yet – as much as I appreciate Emma and her good-heartedness – I do have my doubts about her. Sometimes, I feel like she is making us just a bit more egocentric – and everyone is trying to claim her for themselves. All of a sudden, everything is a sign, an act of God, a hint of the Universe. Yet if we take ourselves out of the equation for a second … it seems like Emma raises more questions than she answers. Is it really possible that all those little “non-coincidences” that need to occur for such a Rome or London story to unfold, only happened so that I would have a great tale to tell? And did all these “non-coincidences” lead to other people on this path, blindly falling into Greta's traps?
The craziest part about this whole thing is that these antithetical uniovular sisters look confusingly alike. I have often almost gotten a panic attack seeing Greta turn the corner and only realized by the sweet-tempered smile on her face, that it was really Emma who had just crept her way back into my life.
Just like in that story of the guy whose wife cooked for him the night before September 11th and ended up lying in bed with the shits when the Twin Towers were hit. Out of fear of hurting her feelings he didn't tell his new bride that he thought there was something fishy about her beef burritos. Stupid coincidence that the first meal his wife made him, gave him food poisoning … or so he thought until he saw the pictures on the news. A classic case of initially confusing Emma for Greta. But whenever I ask Emma why she didn't hide moldy ground meat in all the other 3000 people's meals the night before, she pretends she can't hear me.
It makes the calamities we face easier to deal with, if we believe that everything has a deeper meaning to it – but how can we be sure when Emma is spinning the yarn and when Greta is carving the wood? Is everything part of a bigger plan? Is it all just pure coincidence? Or just a course of events in life on a planet that has no deeper meaning than to simply exist? Where and how do freedom of choice and accountability play a role? Is chance what truly dominates our existence and fate just another sad victim of its power?
Maybe it was fate that my husband forgot his backpack. Or maybe it was sheer dumb luck. After all, we could have both taken another look around the car before we got out. Perhaps it was a magnetic pull of the universe that brought me and an old friend together on one of the busiest spots in Rome. Or it was possibly just a coincidence. I've probably missed many incredible encounters, window shopping or squirrel watching by two streets without knowing.
I do not wish to claim that I know if this thing called fate and destiny really exists. Maybe the idea of fate is the same as that about the religions in the ring parable of „Nathan the Wise”: For those who believe in it, it exists. I do believe that you can learn from and grow in any given situation that life throws at you – no matter if the Norns, the Moirai, Emma, Greta or some combination of them all are the ones behind it.