These two Latin words - cum and incidere - work together in English like peanut butter and jelly. Cum is pronounced with a hard “k” sound and a long “oo” sound and is defined as the term “with.” There are a few other ways it can be used, but generally, “with” is a pretty strong definition. We encounter “cum” regularly at commencement where students graduate “summa cum laude,” with highest honors. Incidere is pronounced with the same hard “k” sound and all the vowels are pronounced short; it sounds like this - in-kid-err-eh. Incidere means “to fall into.” The reason these two words are like peanut butter and jelly? Put them together and they form the subject of today’s blog - coincidence; literally, falling together.
The English word coincidence, derived from these two Latin roots, is defined by Webster as the occurrence of events that happen at the same time by accident but seem to have some connection. I think most of us are familiar with this definition, and most of us have had some sort of experience they would define as coincidental. Another use of the term many of us might not be as familiar with is a scientific use - the occurrence of two beams of light striking a surface at the same point at the same time.
I encountered a coincidence of sorts this Memorial Day. Instead of relaxing in my backyard or at a barbeque like millions of Americans, I woke up early, traveled on a bus to Austin, and spent my day at the University of Texas for the Texas State Solo and Ensemble contest. After we arrived, we sent the kids off to their respective rooms to check in. I wandered around for a little while before my phone rang; it was one of the students calling. She asked me when her pianist was scheduled to arrive at her room.
Her pianist? Her pianist? Well, the morning hadn’t started out perfectly with this particular student or with myself, so this question shouldn’t have been a terrible surprise. Before we left, we had discovered I had somehow forgotten to get judges copies together. Thankfully we had most of them in house, so I dug through the stacks and found what I needed. What I didn’t have was this particular student’s music. What came next was an early morning phone tree, followed by a late departure, then a rendezvous in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Amazingly, after all this, we only arrived five minutes behind schedule.
So, back to the pianist. A couple of weeks before, when I was arranging for piano players, I briefly conferred with the students to double check whether or not they needed one. In my and one of my co-worker’s memories, this particular student said she would not need a pianist. I trusted her - she is an intelligent child - and I trusted my hearing, so I didn’t double check. I guess I should have because she is calling me asking when her pianist would be arriving. If it hadn’t already been 95 degrees outside, I would have started sweating.
I called the other pianist we had contracted to play, but he wasn’t available at that time. I called another director to see about their pianist - he was at lunch and would need to see the part before deciding. We checked with the contest office to see if there were any UT pianists hanging around eager to earn $50. They gave me a number.
I prioritized my options.
- Other pianist heading back from lunch.
- Contracted pianist at a later time.
- Call UT kid.
I decided to try for the guy coming back from lunch. He needed to see the music, so we headed out towards the science building where my students were. We sweated our way through campus trying to get our brains around the problem. We talked through our options, made sure we knew the location of an ATM in case we needed to pay cash right then. Finally, we arrived at the building and got out of the heat.
We walked into the elevator vestibule and there standing in front of me was my coincidence (who also happened to be the savior of this particular story). During college Samantha was in Sigma Alpha Iota, a music sorority. Her little sister was a pianist, who, after she graduated with her piano degree, decided she loved accompanying. She chose to continue her studies in accompanying at UH and was now working on her Doctorate. And here she was standing in front of me! We had fallen together.
There are so many times in our life the universe swoops in and saves us at the last minute. Rarely do we stop and reflect on the significance behind the events leading up to a chance encounter. As my solution was standing in front of me, I no longer needed to run around with my head cut off; I could pause and reflect.
This was my coincidence. Our two paths coincided at the elevators in Robert Moore Hall on the UT campus. This was the only possible place we could have encountered each other as I had approached the building from a different angle than she, parked in a different area, and had students on a different floors. The meeting between the two of us was perfect. We were two beams of light striking a surface at the same point at the same time.
Honestly, if we had just encountered each other, and I had not had a problem to which she was the solution, I wouldn’t have thought anything of it. We probably would have said hi, exchanged some pleasantries during the elevator ride, and then not seen each other again for months or years. Instead, she fit the puzzle I was desperately trying to solve.
I do believe there is significance to coincidences such as these. I do believe that people are often drawn together to serve some purpose just as we were. Could it have been because of the direction of an omniscient God laying out playing pieces? Sure. Or could it have been the power behind the thought I was transmitting into the Universe attracting the solution? Yes. Either way, it happened, and I don’t believe it was by accident.
Look beyond the occurrences in your life and search for the hidden. I don’t think any encounter is insignificant, we only happen to pay attention to those that seem to carry more weight and consequence, such as this one. We can never understand the weight of even the tiniest of encounters. The order of events stemming from everyday actions could have the power to change the world.