Goodwill or St. Vincent de Paul is the equivalent of Emmaus in France. Because we were missing some essentials for camping and didn’t want to buy new things if we didn’t have to, Elo and I spent a few successful hours digging around for a cooking stove, plastic-ware, and knives. Wandering through the vintage typewriter section, I was astonished to read this sentence typed on all of the typewriters: the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog. It’s a pangram; a sentence that uses all of the letters of the alphabet. This sentence written on vintage typewriters in a second-hand shop in Marseilles may not be considered that strange. Indeed, it was a welcome sight after almost three days of nothing but French. However, in addition to this reunion with my home language was the fact that at the time, I was reading the epistolary novel, Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. What is peculiar is that the plot of the book would collapse without this sentence. This existence of this sentence may be common knowledge for most people with knowledge of the English language - native speaker or otherwise - and therefore not that uncommon. I perceived it as quite the rendevouz with kismet.
I’m not usually one to remark on the profundity of coincidences. In fact, it’s rare that I can recall them well enough to share with others after their discovery. I’m honestly not that interested in the meaning of this one. It did, however, get me thinking about the nature of coincidence - or fate if you will - and our relationship to things…and well, relationships. Particularlyreunions.
I’d like to go deeper than, “Oh, I’m just so fortunate to have met this person. The stars must have aligned.” For me, it’s beyond that. We live in a world where having romantic partners, best friends, and people that are like family to you all the way across the globe is expected if you’ve spent a long time in another place. Not facebook-type relationships, but the ones with the people who you will hug again, kiss on both cheeks, and catch up with over coffee. What actually keeps these relationships together?
One of the reasons I’m afraid to live away from home again for a long time is because I know I’ll have to say goodbye to the people I love. It’s an awful feeling, sharing something inexplicable with someone, growing close to them, and not knowing if you’ll see them again. Save for some real motivation or real coincidence - and I would argue it takes a big dose of both - it’s likely you won’t.
Rather than focus on the heartache attached to that more likely reality, let me tell you about my friends from Belgium, Sebi and Cami. We lived together in a giant beach house with 10-15 other people in Malaga, Spain in 2008-2009. I’d traveled with people I enjoyed before, but they were among the first people that I separated from while being away from home who I felt truly pained to leave. But after nearly four years, with news I was booking this trip to Europe, Sebi and Cami arranged to be in Paris to greet me along with Elo. Busy lives, job, and school considered, it was going to be possible to spend time with them again. As luck would have it, I’d been to Paris before, so our time was real time. We rode through Paris on bikes, had beers on a boat bar, ate in exotic markets, and had a picnic in the park. All of these events occurred in order for us to keep each other in our lives in a meaningful way. I’ll admit to personal motivation and globalization playing a large role, but to further my theory about the required role of fate in relationships, I’ll also submit that Cami will be in Portland for work in October - by chance. I feel so fortunate to get to see her again so soon. My dear friends Elo and Johannes, with whom I spent the most time during this trip, are comparable examples of this phenomena.
Relationships do require effort. I’ve had my share of utterly self-draining ties to people - some of whom I’ve distanced myself from in the name of personal growth. But ultimately, strained and forced relationships, near to you or at a distance, lack something cosmic. They lack ease. They lack security in knowing that this person will hitchhike, wander, or veer into your life lane, or you into theirs, as often as necessary to remind you of their importance to you. It’s these fellow vagabonds that are the quizzical sentences. Writing themselves back into your story when you least expect. And they’re always welcome.