Serendipity. . . It’s a weird word. It even sounds a little weird. Serendipity. I looked it up in the dictionary to make sure I had it right: “Serendipity: the faculty or phenomenom of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.”
What’s interesting about serendipity from a philosophical point of view is the question of whether it’s 1.) just a matter of random luck. Or 2.) a sign of divine grace. Some people feel that human life is mostly a matter of 7 billion people stumbling across the planet earth, bumping into each other in random configurations. While others believe there’s an Unseen Hand that is exactly manifesting events from behind the scenes. And I guess both points of view are equally plausible.
Anyways, I’ll give you an example of serendipity from my own life. Back in 2007 I ended up homeless again, and returned to my campsite up in the Berkeley hills. I used to like to feed the bluejays bread and day-old pastries in the morning. There was a whole flock of them. And I enjoyed the whole spectacle of watching them dive-bombing and squawking and doing their pecking-order rituals. Then one morning as I was leaving my campsite I noticed this cat way off in the distance at the top of the hill who was watching me intently. At first I figured it was just a house cat from the neighboring areas that was roaming in the woods. But I soon realized it was a feral cat. Actually, more of a feral kitten. It was about 9 months old, which is about 8-years-old in human years. And there were three of them. All from the same litter no doubt. It turned out, every morning after I left my campsite they would secretly trot down the hills to eat the bread I had left for the birds. A few days earlier I had noticed what I assumed was the mother cat (she was a dead ringer for one of the kittens, no pun intended), lying on the side of the road dead, hit by a car. She had probably been scrounging in the garbage cans by the road, looking for scraps of food to feed her kittens, and got hit. Which added a feeling of heroic sacrifice to her deed. And now her three feral kittens were orphans trying to survive in the jungle. I named them King Cat, Blondie and Joe Panther. And they always trotted down the hill in that order.
A couple days later, as luck would have it — though I’m not sure “luck” is exactly the right word to describe it — they happened to be giving out free samples of these little packets of cat food on Telegraph Avenue. They used to do these promotional give-aways on Telegraph all the time. They’d have five or six people stationed on the different street corners handing out their samples. Stuff like cans of Monster energy drink. Or bottles of cold capaccino and coffee. Or packets of trail mix. Or a new flavor of soda they were trying to introduce. Or shaving razors. Whatever. I guess they figured if they could get you in the habit of consuming their product, you’d start buying it for real. Drug dealers operate under the same concept (“The first ones free, the second one’s on me, and then I got you!”).
I was a bit of a hustler back then, so I used to hit each corner two or three times. I’d even change my jacket and put on a different hat to disguise my appearance. Every now and then they would catch me and say: “Sorry sir, only one item per person.” But mostly they didn’t care. They were getting paid minimum wage and just wanted to unload the truck-load of merchandize as fast as possible. And then after they left, I’d hit all the nearby garbage cans. Because half the people just take the sample as they’re walking by and then realize: “I don’t need this shit.” And toss it in the garbage. So I often ended up with 50 or 60 of the free samples. This might sound chintzy-ass. But then, 60 bottles of coffee comes out to 2 months worth of free coffee, 60 cups times 2 bucks a day each comes out to $120 worth of free coffee. And I had dozens of these kind of little hustles back then, and it adds up, and I was able to live fairly comfortably with very little money.
So anyways, I grabbed a bunch of the cat food samples that day. And the next morning I left some of it for the feral kittens. I didn’t have a cat dish, so I put the cat food on this piece of cardboard.
The next morning I noticed the cats had not only eaten all the cat food, they had chewed up and eaten a bunch of the cardboard that had been soaked slightly with the cat food gravy. I figured: “Man, these cats must really be hungry if they’re even eating cardboard!”
So I got in the habit of feeding them feral kitties. And when my sample packets ran out I started buying cat food for real. And over the next seven years I would become very attached to those feral cats. And one of the original three kittens, Blondie, is still with me seven years later. Just finished feeding her this morning. And I really, really enjoy them feral cats.
But the serendipity thing was: I’ve never before or since ever seen them handing out free samples of cat food on Telegraph. It was an odd product to be giving out in the first place, because it was a college neighborhood where very few people even had cats in the first place. And if not for those free samples, I probably would have never gotten into the habit of feeding those feral cats in the first place. But, for whatever reason, they just happened to be giving out samples of cat food on that particular day. I suppose you could write it off as luck or coincidence. Or maybe even the weird psychic power that cats have to draw favorable things to them. Or maybe it was just destined to be from the beginning of time.