The universe is always speaking to us… Sending us little messages, causing coincidences and serendipities, reminding us to stop, to look around, to believe in something else, something more.
– Nancy Thayer, novelist
Life is unpredictable. We take the pain to plan its every detail. We chalk out five-year and ten-year plans, break them down into smaller milestones and stick to them meticulously. Yet, something utterly unexpected might come along one day and completely change the course of our lives. A chance encounter with someone at the airport, or a stray passage we read in a book while browsing aimlessly at the library, anything can open our eyes to possibilities we never considered before. Some call it kismet, others say it is sheer luck. If you are the practical kind, you might think it is a coincidence. Truth is, there is indeed a certain mystique in the way unusual events transpire in our lives and nudge us in the right direction. We call this mystical phenomenon serendipity.
The word ‘serendipity’ has a fascinating story behind it. There is a Persian folktale of The Three Princes of Serendip, which is set in the magical land of Serendib. Here is how it goes: A wise and revered king sends his three sons on a long journey to help them leave their safe and sheltered lives behind and explore the real world. During their journey, the princes have the most unusual experiences and find unanticipated opportunities, rewards, and lessons. Having come across this gripping tale, Horatio Walpole, an English art historian, went on to coin the term ‘serendipity’.
What is serendipity? How can we explain it? While there aren’t studies exploring this phenomenon, it is a common feature in countless works of fiction. “Sometimes serendipity is just intention unmasked,” writes author Elizabeth Berg in her novel The Year of Pleasures. She may have a point. Perhaps, deep in our hearts, we all know the paths we are meant to take to fulfill our purpose in this world. And serendipitous events may just be a reflection of our intentions. We might just not know that we know exactly where we are headed.
To know that an unexpected turning point is right around the corner might make our current predicaments manageable. And to believe that the universe is looking out for us and conspiring to make things happen for us at the right time is one way of doing that.
Serendipity is not as outlandish as it might sound. World history is full of examples of serendipitous occurrences. For instance, around 142 AD, Chinese alchemists were apparently experimenting with Sulphur and Saltpeter, hoping to concoct an elixir for eternal life, when they accidentally made gunpowder! Alexander Fleming mistakenly left a petri dish of Staphylococcus bacteria by the window and ended up discovering penicillin–a kind of fungus that inhibits bacterial growth. Even Christopher Columbus, who went around the world in search of the Indian subcontinent, stumbled upon America instead.
Even in our own lives, many of us may have experienced serendipitous turning points. Someone might have met the love of their life at a party they only agreed to go to out of compulsion. In the midst of a health crisis, someone might have stumbled upon the power of spiritual practices. A washed-up novelist might have come up with the plot for his bestseller, whilst in the depths of misery.
Could serendipity be a reflection of our own deepest desires? Are such events caused by the position of the stars in our astrological charts? Are they part of some kind of a divine plan or, perhaps, fate? Or are they random, happy accidents? There is no way to know for sure. Perhaps, we only ever understand them based on our belief system. For some of us, believing in the magic of serendipity makes life easier. To know that an unexpected turning point is right around the corner might make our current predicaments manageable. And to believe that the universe is looking out for us and conspiring to make things happen for us at the right time is one way of doing that.