Serendipity. It’s not a word that sees much use in normal conversation these days. The teen-aged boy who stood before me today showed that very clearly when I inserted it into our conversation. He looked at me with a blank stare, as if he could not plumb the depths of that unwieldy word. Our conversation stuttered to a halt until I offered an explanation of its meaning.
He had asked me how I came to choose musical instrument repair as a vocation. Besides the obvious fact that I did not choose it, but had it thrust upon me, I wanted him to understand that sometimes we aim for one thing and hit another, loftier target. “I only wanted a job in the music store selling records and printed music.” I didn’t tell him that I had grown disgustingly tired of making doughnuts at the student union of a neighboring state university. Also, not coincidentally, the owner of the music store was the father of a particularly Lovely Young Lady that I fancied, so the job would give me a chance to be closer to her. I didn’t tell him that part, either.
“Serendipity. That’s what it was.” This was in response to his next question which wondered if I actually enjoyed operating a music store. After I got the conversation going again with the definition of the word, I tied up my thoughts on the matter with these words; “I thought I wanted a paycheck. God gave me a wife and a lifetime calling.”
If you are a member of that group of humans that has everything planned out in detail; that knows what the next move after the next move necessary to achieve your goals is, you may want to quit reading now. What I have to say about this subject may fly in the face of everything you believe to be true. But, just as much as you think that every step on the road to your future should be mapped out beforehand, I believe this: More amazing and lasting achievements have been made, more far-reaching discoveries unveiled, more life-changing events brought about by people who were intending to accomplish something entirely different (and often of much less importance) than the ultimate result.
The definition of serendipity is when we find something good or useful while not specifically searching for it. Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that it means luck. Luck is when you go on a walk and happen to find a diamond ring along the path. Serendipity is about seeking to accomplish one thing and actively working toward that goal, then finding that another, more important objective is achieved in the process. Luck involves happy chance and nothing more–no labor, no planning, no vision.
I noticed recently, as I was out for a walk, that the local convenience store is advertising the state lottery. The one word sign sent my word-nerd brain spinning out of control for a few moments (just a few!). The sign was obviously aimed at the Hispanic population hereabouts. Just one word: “Fortuna”.
My mind went to work on the possibilities. Quite obviously fortuna is a word which means lottery to those who speak the Spanish language. But, like most of our words, it has a history, a family tree if you will. All the way back to the ancient Greeks and their goddess of the same name, the word fortuna has meant luck; both good and bad. The fickle goddess might smile upon you or she might frown. Nothing could change that; no hard work, no vision, no education. Good fortune, bad fortune–it was just a coin toss or a roll of the dice. Funny how we think of fortune as always good now. “He went off to make his fortune.” “My, that was fortunate!” Fortune, in the context of luck (as it can only be used), is both bad and good.
No. Serendipity is not luck, is not fortune–at least, not to my mind. It goes much deeper than those mere happenstances. Those of us who see the world through the eyes of our Christian faith more often call this Divine Providence. Providence essentially means that God sees everything; He sees the big picture, if you will. We can visualize what we are aiming at; He knows exactly what we will hit and clears the way for it to happen.
I don’t buy lottery/fortuna tickets. It makes just as much sense for me to wander the streets hoping for that diamond ring to appear. Luck is a hollow imitation, a wannabe substitute, for Providence. While there are scattered anecdotal reports of people who hit it big in the lottery, I can show you example after example of people who actually did hit it big because they aimed for a worthy goal and struck the much loftier mark they were intended to achieve all the time. You probably either know someone in that group, or are one yourself.
Did I hit it big? You may scoff, but I say yes. I aimed for something to fill a temporal need, but hit a lifetime vocation, a place from which to touch the lives of others. That’s big enough for me.
There may be bigger things to come. I’m going to keep aiming higher.
Who knows? Serendipity may not be finished with me yet.
Time will tell.
“Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.”
(from “The Cynic’s Word Book” by Ambrose Bierce~American satirist~1842-1913[?])
“He lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage dump. He sets them among princes, placing them in seats of honor. For all the earth is the Lord’s, and He has set the world in order.”
(1 Samuel 2:8~NLT)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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