What if…

It happens to all of us, often. You know those times when you’re thinking of someone and they call at the same moment or you’re telling a story about someone and they walk up to you at the that very moment. Coincidence? Or happened for a reason?

There’s one particular story from my own life that never ceases to amaze me because of the number of ‘what if’s that led up to the climax.

Many years ago, I was asked to go to Ottawa on business. Someone cancelled out at the last minute, so there was a paid ticket going unused. I was quite pleased. I was but a junior in the office, so this was a bonus and at that point in my relatively young life, I had not been to Ottawa. And just the week before, I had heard about an art installation that was on display at the National Gallery which sounded incredibly interesting to me. All good to me.

The installation was a collection of chairs that the artist had gathered from women she knew. The chair was the favourite of the owner – the place where she always sat to have her morning coffee or read the evening paper. Each woman recorded a bit of a biography, some piece of her life story. Each recording was on a continuous loop playing on a tape recorder attached to the underside of the chair. Head phones were connected and draped over the chair. The idea was that you sat in this woman’s chair, put on the headphones and listened to her tell her story. Sounds cool, right?

Needless to say I was excited that I now had an opportunity to go and see the display myself. So I checked the details – gallery hours, where it was, where I was staying, how do I get there, expected work hours, etc. Everything checked out.

So on the day, in Ottawa, I complete all the work expected of me and head off to the gallery in the late afternoon. Upon arrival, I find out that they have switched to winter hours which meant early closing. It was now about forty minutes to closing. The clerk then added, that if I waited ten minutes, I could get in for free. Not seeing that ten minutes would make much of a difference and happy to save the money, I opted to wait.

The gallery doors opened and I made a bee-line for the room with the installation, thinking, as I dashed through the gallery, I’d only have time, really, to sit in one chair and listen to one woman’s story.

I arrive and the setup was impressive. There were about twenty chairs of every possible sort – old fashioned, vinyl and tube kitchen, big, dumpy easy, chintz covered wingback, modern, antique. I gazed at the array for a minute or two. There was one chair that appealed to me immediately; unfortunately it was right beside another chair that was occupied by a man who was intently listening to the story of the woman in whose chair he was sitting. I figured it would be terribly rude to sit down right next to him, especially given that we were the only two people in the room. So, I decided on a chair opposite him, sat down and put on the headphones. Out of those headphones came the voice of a remarkable woman I had met a few years before while traveling. I was no longer in touch with her, but her voice and story were unmistakable. Pretty amazing. Still gives me goosebumps.

What a coincidence, right? Or was it? Wasn’t this the chair I was really meant to sit in?

What about you, do you believe in coincidence? Or is it all somehow meant to be? Tell us your ‘what if’ stories. Share in the comments below.

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