FATE AND COINCIDENCE
“Is there anything like Fate? Are our lives planned out beginning to end? Well, many people believe that there is something bigger than us. That, there is a reason for everything. Some believe that everything is a coincidence. It all depends on if one believes in things of more importance to us. Some believe that coincidence is real and not Fate. However, none of this can ever be truly proven”.
Webster’s dictionary of synonyms compares them. Fate suggests inevitability. Fate is the most evocative synonym. It derives from the Latin fari, ‘to be spoken.’ The spoken word is powerful. The word has the power to enspele and ensorcell you. Coincidentally or not, the word ‘spell’ derives from the old English spellen, ‘to be spoken,’ the same word as fari. When one speaks, one casts a spell and casts one’s fate.
Coincidence is appropriately more mundane, “a seemingly planned sequence of accidentally occurring events.” One might think the collision of events was fated to occur, but one is mistaken. It signifies nothing. But, searching like we all do for an explanation and a sense of importance, we create our fate by spelling out meaning from a jumble of coincidences.
We’ve all had it happen to us. We think about someone who we haven’t seen in a while, and later that same day, we bump into him. We have an ominous feeling that something bad is going to happen and it does. We have a dream that predicts our future. We look back at events in our lives and we see them fitting together like a puzzle.
You think to yourself, “If I hadn’t been in that exact place, at that exact moment, my life would have gone in a totally different direction. I wouldn’t have met this or that person. I wouldn’t have done this thing or that thing. I would have taken that job instead of this one. I would have married that boy instead of my husband.”
Is it all connected somehow? Or is it just coincidence?
The notion that death itself might actually be capable of ‘stalking its prey’ with a pre-laid-out plan as to where, when and by what means our ends will be met is an intriguing one to ponder. Most are familiar with the long list of unexplained ‘coincidences’ related to the assassinations of Presidents Lincoln and Kennedy, but few are familiar with those other equal, and no less eerie, examples of fate in its most obvious form. While, it may sometimes be alluded to in certain situations, it is also often ignored for the most part, outweighed by common logic and rational explanations of reason. Coincidence is the term usually applied to ironic aspects of a happening. The superstitious fear of the numbers 3 and 13, when applied to certain situations e.g., in the 1997, car crash that took the life of Princess Diana, another car (never located) was thought to have side-swiped the Princess’ vehicle as it entered the tunnel causing it to hit the number 3 support beam, just inside the entrance. This then sent the car she was riding in out of control, causing it to strike another beam farther down as number 13. It was beam 13 that caused the majority of damage to the car and was ultimately responsible for her death. Was it fate or coincidence that out of all those beams that line the inside of that Paris tunnel, only those particular two were involved?
Death appears to have kept very close company with the crew of Apollo-13 in 1970. In the end, tragedy was averted. But, there is no questions in the minds of those who were there and witnessed the events unfold first hand, that something strange was happening. It was NASA’s Apollo-13 Mission into space (and 3rd mission to the Moon). Lift-off occurred at exactly 13:13 hours on 11th April. For the next two days, the mission was routine. But, then on 13th April, one of the oxygen tanks exploded, damaging not only the crew’s fuel supply, but venting the remaining supply of oxygen out into the darkness of space. Too far into the mission to turn back, Apollo-13 continued on, uncertain of its fate…and into history-as one of America’s most gripping adventures. The 1994, documentary Apollo-13 to the Edge and Back presented a chilling portrait and reminder; of just how close the Grim Reaper had come.
Then, there was the strange suicide death of actress Peg Entwistle in 1932. A former New York stage actress. She became desperate over her inability to obtain acting work once she moved to Hollywood. She had landed a bit part in a low-budget Myrna Loy picture, the plot of which, centered on ‘suicide and the supernatural.’ But, it had not been released yet. Depressed, Entwistle climbed to the top of the then, thirteen-lettered Hollywood land sign and jumped to her death off the letter ‘H’. Ironically, the film she had done with Loy (ironically entitled thirteen women) was released the following week. The critics all gave Entwistle positive reviews. Too bad she hadn’t waited around to hear them. Years later, when a decision was needed to either tear down or repair the aging letters on the famous landmark sign, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided to repair only the ones spelling out the word Hollywood. The decision for leaving the last four letters off is still cloudy, but it was later rumoured that it had been done for ‘superstitious reasons.’
In the early 60s a movie was released entitled ‘Fate is the Hunter’. Based on a popular 1961, best-selling novel by former pilot Ernest K Gann, the plot revolved around the crash of a commercial airliner and the unusual string of coincidences that proceeded the accident. Loosely inspired by the real-life series of events that contributed to the crash of TWA Flight 3 in 1942, (which killed actress Carole Lombard and 21 others outside Las Vegas), the 1964, movie presented an eerie reminder that often times we are not as in control of our lives as we would like to think. Because fate is not a word that traditionally exists in the vocabulary of air accident investigators, the more accepted word, coincidence, is often used in its place in order to explain which is difficult to accept. In the end, the Lombard crash was blamed on error of the pilot. Left out of the Civil Aeronautics Board Report was the strange pattern of unusual events that seemed to merge together in just the exact right sequence, so as to guarantee that death would be the only and final outcome. From Lombard’s reckless decision to allow her trip home to rest solely on the flipping of a coin, to the bizarre reoccurrence of the number 3, everything associated with the crash seemed to have been set in motion by Lombard’s having boarded Flight 3 in Indian Apollo’s. She was 33 years old and travelling with two other people on that ill-fated DC-3. The plane crashed 33 miles outside Las Vegas. The pilot, Wayne Williams, had sought to make up time by taking a short-cut route. Williams had only experienced one night flight out of Las Vegas before three weeks earlier, when many of the airway beacons lining that route were still ‘blacked out’ due to the attack on Pearl Harbour. Since then, a main beacon had been relit, and was positioned almost directly in the flight path of the doomed aircraft. The Vegas night departure would not have been necessary, had the plane not been exactly three hours behind schedule, due to an unusual weather delay in St Louis. Nearby, Boulder City Airport had no runway lights. Flight 3, originally scheduled to land there, and was automatically diverted to McCarrin Field in Las Vegas after it was clear the plane would not make it before sunset. Fate or coincidence? A question that remains unanswered…to this day. It should also be noted, a premonition to the tragedy was not only experienced by Lombard’s mother (who claimed “flying on the 16th with so many 3s was bad luck”), but also by a studio employee who had worked with Carole in her recently completed film ‘To Be or Not to Be’ The employee had a dream a night before. The dream featured Carrole, a plane and the cryptic word ‘pots.’ Not only would he have not known about Carole’s last minute decision to take the flight, but there was no way he could have known the actual location of the crash. The mountain involved was always reported to be Table Rock Mountain a smaller peak, a few miles to the South of the real impact site. It was later learned, however, the plane had actually hit the peak of Mount Potosi.
The Lombard crash and the circumstances surrounded would not be unique. Six years later, another famous crash would involve premonition and fate. A coin would also be flipped to decide the trip. The crash was Flight 624 and killed 43 people including Hollywood theatre owner Earl Carroll and his actress girlfriend Beryl Wallace. A recent premonition had caused Carroll to alter his Will and add a new clause relating to ‘burial arrangements’ regarding him and Beryl which should they happen to die ‘simultaneously’. As with the title of Lombard’s last film, so was there irony in the case of Beryl’s last project. A half-burned script belonging to her.
To many, fate only occurs on a personal level. Chain reactions exist, certainly, where one person’s behaviour results in a massively far-reaching effect, but they are not ruled by fate. Incidents and chain reactions with a broader range of impact, such as the butterfly effect, have no intended purpose. It is fate that can play the triggering role within the intimate confines of a single person’s life. Sometimes, there are certain events in our lives that are just meant to happen. Those events happen for some reason in some person’s lifetime, meant to influence only the person they happen to.
Some years ago I happened to hear about a strange but true incident “A lady gets on to a tractor trolley full of logs of forest wood. A serpent creeps into her garments, she cries, but the driver of the tractor does not hear her cries. A motorcyclist was passing through the way. He hears her cries. He signals the tractor driver to stop, but the driver does not stop. He takes his motorcycle back and asks again to stop the tractor. The lady sitting in the tractor trolley threw away the serpent. The serpent falls on the motorcyclist and bit him and he died on the spot. What can be concluded? Was it merely a coincidence or the death was predetermined and it was his fate?
No doubt coincidences happen too. Not every occurrence in a person’s life is fated. Some are though, and randomness rules them. The fated meetings, actions, observances, even passivity that a person experiences occur without warning or seeming direction. Free will itself can direct the fatefulness in one’s life, so it is practically impossible to recognize those things that are fated. There are no markers to indicate a fated meeting from an unfated one. In retrospect, one can attempt to reduce the level of fate in a completed action in one’s life, but even then, it is only a supposition.
So what exactly is the difference between fate and coincidence? Rather, what evidence is there that fate exists in a world of randomness? That’s where personal faith comes in. Sure, there are proofs to reveal the existence of God and so forth, but ask anyone who isn’t Thomas Aquinas who believes in God why he or she does, and, pared down, you’ll receive mainly a faith-based response. I, therefore, have faith in fate. Some coincidences are just too coincidental to be random.