Once you recognize that something is a coincidence you have been captured. A better word is “captivated,” for there is a compelling fascination about an occurrence that we can’t explain. Something significant has happened and we don’t know how or why. Something we have nothing to do with comes out of the blue and surprises us with its timing and appropriateness.
The “what” is easy to describe. Several unrelated things happened that made sense when you looked back on them. For example, the truck that usually was kept inside on that day was parked outside just where the blast would come and it protected the people. Or, you put the wrong coat on when you went to work, but as it turned out it had the only keys in the pocket that would open the emergency supply cupboard at the office. The “how” is more difficult to explain. Coincidences have this uncanny habit of having a meaning but of happening without any evident cause– as if some script is being followed that no one in the play knows about. They give you the sense that an unseen force is working its own good design in its own way. Coincidences are God-incidents.
The Pentagon Fireman with Angels
When an American Airlines plane piloted by terrorists struck the Pentagon on 9/11 only a miracle saved Alan Wallace and two fellow firefighters. On that fateful morning, they were assigned to the Pentagon heliport fire station from the neighboring Fort Myer Army Base in Arlington, Virginia. Other Fort Myer firefighters were either at base taking a week-long course on Air Field Firefighting or were scheduled off, leaving Dennis Young, forty-five, Mark Skipper, twenty-seven, and Alan, fifty-five, as on-duty crew that morning. Alan was in charge.
He was no stranger to danger or to miracles. Having served four and a half years’ active duty in the US Navy, including one year in Viet Nam as a combat hospital operating room technician, and then twenty-two years as a firefighter, he had more than his share of narrow escapes. Nothing could have prepared him for what was to happen that day.
Mark* never thought he’d be in prison. Chalk it up to a combination of stupidity and circumstance.
It all began with a drinking party. Because of the noise, the police were called. They discovered that two of the women were under age. No one, least of all Mark, had even imagined that. “Thirty days.”
While he was in jail, there was a riot and a guard was beaten up. Mark had nothing to do with it, but he was slipped a threatening note: “Keep your mouth shut!”
With his silence, the authorities thought he was implicated. “Two years.”
Now he was mad. His stubbornness fought back. They tried to break him. “Ninety days in the hole.”
By the time he got out of the hole it was hate, and when he was released from prison, he went on a rampage, violence, stealing, you name it, and he was caught. “Two years.”
So there he was in prison again, twenty-four, lonely, bitter and lost.
That’s when the man started visiting him. He was a total stranger, part of a community program, just a Mennonite chicken farmer from the valley. He came every week and they soon became friends.
High over Michigan Avenue
Marci* was a twenty-eight-year-old flight attendant based in Chicago. She was divorced and living with three other flight attendants on the nineteenth floor of a high-rise overlooking Lake Michigan.
One night she was alone in the apartment and desperate. Standing by the window high above Michigan Avenue, she thought, There’s no screen on this window. I could just sit on the edge and fall off.
A young woman her age had gone off the roof just a few months earlier. It had been working on her mind. The thought terrified her. What if I did do it? My family would soon get over it, I’m not very close to them.
Marci’s family life had been pretty chaotic. There was a lot of fighting and unhappiness in the home.
We do not know whether an event is good or bad until we see its outcome, and that outcome may take a long time to be revealed. Let us wait patiently for God. Sometimes, in trying circumstances, we are given the opportunity to make the outcome better than when we began. Often God’s best work is done through the response we make to tragedy and difficulty.