I’ve written about coincidences before and about how important it is not to assign illegitimate meaning to chance events. But sometimes it’s hard not to believe in supernatural forces in the face of truly amazing coincidences.
One such coincidence happened recently to my husband, Edwin. A wasp got into our house. It was a big wasp. It buzzed around the ceiling and then disappeared. Edwin doesn’t like bees and wasps, probably because his father was allergic, and he himself has huge reactions to them when he’s stung. The next morning we were planning to take the dogs on a long hike a couple of hours from home. We’d be gone for 12 hours, leaving our cat at home alone. With the wasp.
I hadn’t given the wasp any thought at all, but Edwin had. In fact he’d gone to sleep worrying about leaving the cat in the house with the wasp, and had awakened in the middle of the night, fretting about the cat if he didn’t find the wasp. In the morning, he couldn’t find the wasp. As he went to put on his boots, he found himself wondering if the wasp was in his right boot. He put it on, and then put on the left boot, and then stood up and felt something under his right arch. He took off the boot, and there was the wasp, dead. Even my scientist husband couldn’t shake the strangeness of that coincidence. Why on earth had the wasp wound up in his boot? But even more perplexing, why had he wondered if it was there? He hadn’t wondered if it was in his slippers when he put those on as he got out of bed.
And so we crafted a story. Our cat, not wanting him to worry, caught the wasp in the night and deposited it in his shoe to reassure him. A selfless act from an otherwise self-centered creature. Edwin liked the story.
I’m in the midst of reading an excellent book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel prize winner in economics. The book describes the differences between our two modes of thinking – fast: intuitive, emotional, making causal connections that may not be valid; slow: deliberate and logical. As a scientist, Edwin is very deliberative and careful not to indulge in rash and emotional thinking. He’s not very susceptible to superstition and doesn’t normally jump to invalid conclusions, but the wasp threw him off. And so we’re enjoying the image of our cat, risking himself to catch a wasp and deposit it just where it needed to be to reassure Edwin. It’s a good story, even if it’s not true.
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