March 26, 2013


Synchronicity can perhaps be described as coincidence with a hidden agenda. The concept was more precisely defined by its originator, Swiss psychotherapist Carl Jung, as "temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events." Synchronicity is when you are thinking about an old friend who haven't heard from in years and the next day you get a phone call from him. There is no direct connection between the two events, but it does seem damned odd, even meaningful, in some intangible way.

Most times we shrug these things off, but sometimes the intersection of events is too weird to just ignore. I long ago began a thought experiment of my own, to assume that there is no such thing as coincidence, so perhaps I am more attuned to these things than most, but I think what happened yesterday would get anybody's antennae twitching.

It started with research into my latest novella, which is set in 1885. Events begin in Boston and move to Berlin. The story opens with a meeting between the narrator, Thomas Stoddard, and an old friend. Both characters are being carried forward from an earlier work, Requiem for Ahab. Thomas Stoddard is the son of Captain Ahab of Moby Dick fame.This story is set twenty years or so after the events of Requiem. Stoddard has ended up as what would today be called a financial reporter, working for one of the big Boston dailies of the time, The Boston Herald.

So anyway, the meeting is to be held at Young's Hotel, a popular dining place back in 1885, located on Court Street near Boston's financial district. Being somewhat obsessive about layering on period detail, I thought I needed some more precise information about that area, so I searched the Internet for a Boston directory dated 1885. Sure enough, the good folks at Tufts University had digitized just the very thing I was looking for.

On a whim, I thought I would look to see if anyone named Thomas Stoddard was listed. I opened up the "S" listing and scrolled down the list until I did indeed find that surname of Stoddard. I clicked on the link and up popped a more detailed listing of names, occupations, and addresses.

My eye raced down the list and sure enough, there were actually two persons listed under Thomas Stoddard. What brought me up short was the street address for the first Thomas Stoddard: 47 Kilby Street. Anyone familiar with my family history will have just had a moment. Kilby Street -- the one in Hingham not Boston -- was where my mother was born and where many of my relatives continue to live.

So you tell me. What are the odds that an invented character of mine would share the name of someone who actually lived in 1885 on a street that turns out to be just a couple of blocks from a hotel I had randomly selected, a street with the same name as one I visited many times growing up, the street where my mother was born and raised?

Coincidence? Maybe. I can tell you that the whole thing left me feeling somehow reassured, like I was being given a little nudge telling me that I was on the right track. Maybe that's not so much in the grand scheme of things, but if, like me, you are always keeping half an eye peeled for some kind of sign that this all might actually mean something, well, it's as good a place to begin as any.

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