When I was in my early 20s, a father of one of my friends asked me what my goals were. I didn’t have an answer, nor did I want to think about it, but his question kept coming to the surface of my consciousness again and again. Another man, a college professor, suggested I go into teaching. Something clicked in my head because I liked learning. It seemed to fit. I set my goal to become a teacher.
Why did I become a teacher and now a writer? Another person, my future managing editor, having seen my letters to the editor about the local fire district, asked me if I wanted to write a column for the paper. I had just lost my bid for re-election to the Enumclaw City Council and the timing was right.
As I reflect on my life, I see that chance has played a big part in it. Someone made a comment, or a suggestion, and it changed my life forever. Opportunities and choices in all our lives are influenced by such occurrences. Our lives are often made up of such serendipitous events.
Consider your own lives. Have there been times when a word or suggestion sets you off on a different course? I’m guessing all of us have had such events that occur to us. Here are some famous people in history whose lives have changed by chance or choice.
George Washington came close to being killed by bullets several times during battles. During the Battle of the Monongahela in 1755, which started the French and Indian War, Washington was a 23-year old British colonial colonel under the command of Gen. Braddock. He had his horse shot out from under him twice. Of 1,300 British soldiers fighting the French that day only 30 survived and Washington was one. Had Washington died, the history of the United States would have been very different.
Alfred Nobel (1833-1896), Swedish chemist and armaments manufacturer, and the inventor of dynamite among other inventions, had the experience of being mistakenly reported to have died in a French newspaper obituary. It was actually his brother who had been killed in a factory explosion in 1888. The notice erroneously stated that, “The merchant of death is dead.” The report went on to say, “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding more ways to kill more people faster than any other person, died yesterday.” The report shocked Nobel enough to cause him, according to some accounts, to create the Nobel Peace Prize after his actual death so he might be remembered for something more than creating explosives.
A chance meeting between two strangers, Gwyneth Paltrow and Lora Lundstom Clarke, in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, saved Clarke’s life. Clarke was roller blading along the Hudson River when she crossed a street and saw Paltrow in an SUV on her way to a yoga class. They stopped to talk and because of the slight delay, Clarke missed her train to work. Had she made that train she would have undoubtedly been at her desk on the 77th floor of Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. When she arrived on a later train, she was in time to see the first airliner slam into Tower 1. Ten years later the two women met again. Paltrow’s remark was, “It still gives me chills, I can’t quite believe how many other people changed the lives of strangers on that day.”
I write these stories because they are interesting, but also because it is sometimes a healthy thing to reflect on the major chance occurrences that happen to all of us that cause us to make different choices in our lives and thus change the course of events.