July 29, 2004

I met a girl, Sarah, at a party; she told me about the thesis she was working on. A few days later, I came across a newly-published book of photography that dealt with the same rather obscure subject. I tried a number of ways to find Sarah's e-mail address online to write to her about the book. Not finding it, I figured I’d get in touch with the host of the party to get her address.

The very next day I decided to go to a coffee shop near my office, one I hadn’t been to in years. I took a window seat. And from my seat, I saw Sarah walk by. I was too stunned to say anything through the open window in front of me. I thought, well, on the astronomically low chance that she walks back by, I’ll say her name. And, wouldn’t you know it, half an hour later, she did walk back by, and I did say her name, and she came inside and I told her about the book.

To add the final implausibility to the story – the one that your fiction-writing teacher would say you couldn’t put in there even if it was real because it was just too cute – she mentioned that, in addition to her thesis, she was also working on a documentary. “On what?” I asked. “Chance meetings,” she replied.

1) If I hadn’t talked to Sarah at the party, I would not have noticed the book that related to her thesis. 2) If I hadn’t agreed to try help a photographer get featured in a national magazine, I never would have seen the magazine that the book was featured in. 3) If I hadn’t decided to go to that particular cafĂ© at that particular time of day, and if I hadn’t chosen a window seat, I never would have seen her. 4) If she hadn’t taken the exact same path to get back to her car, I would never have seen her the second time. 5) If she had never found out about the book…well who knows? Maybe it will turn out to be crucial to her work, maybe not.

It’s exciting to think of encounters with people as scattering seeds. You can’t know what people do with information you give them; you can’t know what you’ll do with information they give you. It’s strange and wonderful to think that one (seemingly) random encounter with a person can change – maybe not everything – but a lot. For both of you. And slight changes in direction can eventually get a person on a whole new path.

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