In their 2014 book entitled Small Miracles from Beyond, best selling authors Yitta Halberstam and Judith Leventhal tell the story of Cena, an excited mother who takes a long airplane journey to Los Angeles to be present at the birth of her first grandchild. There were a few complications with the pregnancy, but she tried not to worry. As she reached her assigned seat, she gasped. She would have to sit between two Orthodox Jews, men who are prohibited from physical contact with any female outside of their immediate family. Although she was Jewish, too, she was not orthodox and feared the consequences of any impropriety with them.
Each man was dressed in a black coat, wore the traditional long curly sideburns (payut), and was deeply immersed in a holy book. She tried to ask the stewardess to change her seat when the man to her right spoke with a friendly hello and introduced himself as “Rabbi Feldman.” She asked if he knew Rabbi Shlomo Feldman who was the rabbi at her synagogue. Yes, he was his father. In a town of 750,000 Jews, this was quite a coincidence!, she thought.
She then told him that her grandmother had sponsored the rabbi and his family to come from Europe after World War II. Though not at all a wealthy woman, her grandmother had begged and borrowed cash from whomever she could to bring Rabbi Feldman to Los Angeles. Did he know her grandmother, Rose Fleishman? He sat up straight and smiled. “Your grandmother was an angel!” She had done so much for his family.
How could this be? Cena wondered. To sit next to a man who knew her grandmother! A calm settled over her. She felt her grandmother’s presence. The pregnancy that would have worried her the entire flight would now turn out alright. And it did.
Coincidences are more likely to occur during major life transitions like birth, marriage, major sickness, and death. This observation is supported by many similar stories and by survey data. Why? I think that these events tear us out of our usual routines, the comfortable nets that both support and restrict us. Though these tears of sadness or joy, odd combinations of events can more easily occur.