Coincidence appears often in our lives: For example, my turning on a light in my apartment building, at the moment someone else is looking up. This simple event—that perfectly timed light just as they look up—might strike them as being significant. But for me it may go unnoticed as an unremarkable moment. The perception of meaning in that coincidence depends on our contexts. It’s the context that is the special part, not the event itself. Understanding that, makes it possible to shift our perspectives.

Sonder: n. the realization that each random passerby is the main character of their own story, living a life just as vivid and complex as your own, while you are just an extra in the background

~ “Sonder” is credited to John Koenig

I’m just the random person flipping on a light. That other person, who I don’t even know is out there, is the main character of their story. But it’s just a coincidence.

Thirty years ago I bought a calculator. An HP-42S which, to this day, works perfectly in every respect. The keys don’t just still work but they are in perfect condition. They softly bump (the way a modern phone’s haptic motor dreams it might some day bump) and their labels remain pristine. It’s clearly a marvel of over-engineering. It takes 3 little button batteries, and they last about 3 or 4 years. When I bought it, it was moderately expensive. Not expensive per se, but also not something I’d want to lose. So I put a little white label inside the battery door and I wrote the date and my first name. (And I did once leave it in a laboratory, and retrieved it from lost+found by saying, “my name is inside.”) Being insane, I even wrote the month/year on that label as I changed the batteries. After about 15 years, the label was full and I stopped writing dates. A few days ago—on December 16th to be exact—the battery indicator said it was again, time. Normally (read “ALWAYS”), I’m a “jump up and do it now” sort of person. Instead, for no particular reason, I turned off my faithful 42S and simply set it aside. The very next day, I got three new batteries, opened the little battery door…

And it was December 17th. I bought my calculator on December 17, 1993. There I was, changing the batteries on December 17th, 2023. Exactly 30 years. It’s just an interesting coincidence, right?