28. Serendipity: when Larry met Carole

It’s scary how much of our life is influenced by serendipity. Ninety-nine times out of 100, the single event that determined the rest of my life would not have happened. But it did happen. And here we are, having just celebrated our 34th Valentine’s Day together. 

Picture Denver’s Stapleton Airport (which doesn’t exist anymore). I’m standing in line at the ticket counter of TWA (which doesn’t exist anymore). I’d been in Denver writing speeches and coaching speakers at a business meeting for Mountain Bell, a subsidiary of US West (both of which don’t exist anymore). I was getting ready to fly home to St. Louis (which still exists).

I should not have been at that ticket counter. Carole should not have been there either. But we both were. The story of that chance meeting, and all that transpired afterward, is a delightfully romantic story that most of our friends already know. (If you haven’t heard it, buy me a couple drinks sometime, and then get comfortable.) I don’t intend to re-tell that long story here.

The story I’m telling is about a scary thought I had in the shower last week, as I was getting ready to go to our favorite French restaurant for Valentine’s Day.

What if she and I had not been in that exact spot at that exact time in November of ’85?

I’d been scheduled to fly home three days earlier. My client decided he’d like me to stay for the rest of the week.

Carole was going to Lexington for Thanksgiving, and decided to detour through Columbus to visit some old friends. She was connecting through St. Louis.

I usually arrive at airports much too early, and sip coffee for an hour. That morning, I arrived at Stapleton later than I would have ordinarily. I’m not sure why Carole was there at that exact time. Maybe she just wanted to meet me.

But there we were: a 39-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman. We chatted a little bit in line; then I went up to the counter, got my boarding pass, and went down to my gate.

I didn’t give her a second thought, until she walked past me as I was sitting in the boarding area. Turns out, she was on the same flight. Go figure. Since there was a seat next to me in the gate area, she sat down, and we continued chatting. I learned she was writing her dissertation to finish her Ph.D. She learned that I was a writer for a communications company.

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. We decided to continue our conversation on the plane, got our seat assignments changed… and the rest is history.

Besides this being such a gosh-darned cute story, it’s also a damned scary story. There are so many reasons why we should not have met.

The Mitcheners almost didn’t happen. If Carole’s or my cab to the airport had hit just one more stoplight, I’m pretty sure I would not have had such a delightful Valentine’s Day lunch last week at La Sardine in Chicago. And Matt Mitchener wouldn’t exist.

Think about the most important elements in your life. Think back to how and why all of those elements came together. I’m guessing at some point, your life was changed significantly by a totally unplanned, accidental event. Serendipity.

You think you’re in total control of your life, that you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. And then BAM! You happen to be somewhere and run into someone – perhaps literally – and your life takes a sharp turn. Three decades years later, you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day at a French restaurant in Chicago.

I never liked French food or Valentine’s Day.

Go figure.

10 thoughts on “28. Serendipity: when Larry met Carole

  1. As always, we enjoyed this bit of romance from you. It stuck me that so many companies no longer exist! And yet, here we are!!!!

  2. I have always been a big believer in the large fixed points of life theory. That theory is that no matter what you do, taking a left or a right, at some point the same event will happen in your life regardless of the decisions you made up until that point.

    That faceplant you did on your skateboard in high school? Your choice.
    That crepe you ate last Thursday that gave you a horrible stomach ache? Your choice.
    Meeting your significant other, getting along fantastically, and living the rest of your life together? That was always going to happen.

    The theory is also that it might not happen at the same time and place in each timeline (I believe that every choice you make has an alternative timeline in which you took the other choice (or choices)). But it will happen in your life, at some point, regardless of anything else you do.

    It is very scary to think about. How much, or little control do we really have? What are our fixed points? How does what we do affect when or how that fixed point will arrive in our lives? Is it even a thing?!

    Those are dangerous questions, because they dig deep into something we really can’t find an answer for.

  3. Such a great story that it makes one wonder if everything in life is always just by chance alone.

  4. Great story! I think about those tiny chances of fate and “what if…” all the time! Wonderful and SCARY!

  5. Very sweet, Larry, and also very true. Made me think about how, if I hadn’t chosen to sit next to Chuck in senior year Sociology, we might never have met, even though we had both been at the same (large) high school for 4 years. I was a band and theater geek, he was a radio station geek . . . .you know how that goes! Thanks for this.

  6. This is such a great story. I really enjoy these looks back in your past. Keep ’em coming!

  7. Love hearing your story again in a short version. Hope the restaurant last week served you well. Would also love to know about LeSardine – really??

    Such fun getting to know you both and having you as neighbors.

    1. La Sardine makes a great Old Fashioned, and probably a good Manhattan, too. We’ll go there sometime.

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