Coincidences have been abundant as of late. I chose a book for our reading group called Flight Behavior, by Barbara Kingsolver. It’s about a lot of things involving flight, from a woman who wants to flee her marriage, a reporter who flies toward sensationalism and away from reality and the flight patterns of Monarch butterflies.
That’s not the coincidence. That’s the author playing with theme.
Where the coincidences begin is in the timing. I selected the book six months ago and it is finally on the table for our mid September meeting. Considering the majority of the book club members are procrastinators like me, this means that most of us have been reading it in the past few weeks. Thus our minds are focused on butterflies, beautiful prose and flight.
I met a friend for a coffee and she described a dilemma in her personal life that almost mirrored the main struggle of the lead character in the book. If I hadn’t been reading Flight Behavior, I might have found my friend’s desire to flap her already outstretched wings a less tenable idea. Is it strange that being so deeply inside the head of a fictional character can give you more compassion for the real characters in our lives?
And then there are the butterflies. Everyone is talking about them. I know that I have a heightened awareness to these winged insects by the mere fact that I’m reading this book. But really; I have heard the word vlinder (butterfly in Dutch) in no less than six conversations over the past two weeks.
It’s like I’m being tickled on my cheeks by the butterfly wings of coincidence. Let me just share the latest example. After church on Sunday, I was offered the left over communion bread (waste not, want not) with the thought that perhaps my son and I would like to feed the ducks in the lake. Who wouldn’t want to minister to the ducks with squares of blessed bread?
Although my son initially rolled his eyes at the idea (roughly translated as I’m Seven and a half now mom; way too old to go feed the ducks), he was eventually on board. We had planned a walk anyway, and the ducks might be hungry.
Boy were we wrong. The ducks were acting like lazy agnostics as they slowly paddled toward us with only mild interest. It was a hot day, I’ll give them that. And the water had a strange green layer on it’s surface, which not only stank but must have made it a bit harder to swim. But still! Have you ever known an urban duck to be lethargic around free bread, already cut to bite size?
We moved on to a second, more popular duck feeding spot along the edge of the lake where more ducks were assembled. But we had competition in the shape of a four-year old girl and her father with a slightly larger plastic bag of bread. I bet you it wasn’t blessed.
Strangely, we didn’t greet each other, but competitively set up shop just ten feet apart and my son and I threw our holy bread into the water with zeal. If the first group of ducks were agnostics, these were the atheists.
“They just aren’t hungry,” said a man behind me in Dutch. Of course he was right. We were probably the 100th group of bread throwers today. Somehow, I fell into conversation with this older man, who sat on the bench with the leisure of someone who planned to stay a while.
He heard my English accent paired with my ability to carry on a full conversation in Dutch and astutely assessed that I was foreign, but had lived in The Netherlands for a while. Due to my apparent affinity with English culture and his apparent abundance of free time, he launched into a story about a design competition he had won in Canada years ago for sculpture. He was flown to Canada to create his masterpiece. He chose to make a butterfly sculpture to represent the connection between Canada and the Netherlands. I must have looked at him sideways. Of course you did a sculpture of a butterfly. I already knew the end of this story before you even began.
In all seriousness, I like the flow of coincidence; how if your thoughts are aligned and tapped into the world around you, the world seems to unfurl its wings with something as unrelated as pieces of bread leading you to a conversation with a stranger about a butterfly sculpture. Am I describing a portion of chaos theory known as the Butterfly Effect? Is that a coincidence? How about this? It doesn’t just exist in the physicial world. I did a search on something like “butterflies flapping their wings and a tsunami” and guess what came up in sixth place on google? Butterflies in The Hague. Say what?
Shall I just get it over with and declare September the month of the Butterfly?
My son and I walked around the rest of the lake and found a bench to sit on. We spent a good deal of time discussing a rectangular hole in front of the bench and a number of possibilities of how that hole got there: Was it man made? Did a dog with a penchant for straight edges have a digging fest? Would the hole grow deeper each time it rained? Would a duck float in the hole?
Before we left the lake my son said “Good bye ducks.” He smiled at me, as if I too was in on the duck joke.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to talk to the ducks.