Unhappy Coincidences

Not all coincidences are happy, but they are almost always meaningful.

I learned this during my recent visit to the Cape Verde Islands in West Africa, a place I had previously lived off-and-on for four years. Synchronicities abounded: after a random conversation with someone about my former host father, I hopped on my next inter-island flight to see him sitting on the plane; I went to a bank to change money, only to discover that the teller had been my English student on a different island almost 20 years ago; I had lunch in a restaurant with a new acquaintance, and we bumped into a friend of hers, who also happens to be a Reiki healer (and those are few and far between in Cape Verde).

Coincidences like these are usually signs from the Universe that you are on a good path. Stars are aligning for you, and the right people are coming into your life at the right moment in time.

Unhappy coincidences can mean the same thing, heartbreaking as they are. On the very day I was supposed to visit a dear friend in a rural area of Santiago Island, she told me tearfully that her older brother had passed away suddenly that morning. Three days later, I was anchored by her side at the funeral service – a far cry from our anticipated joyful reunion, but still exactly where I needed to be.

At the burial, the sounds of loud, anguished wailing rang out from Crisálida and her family. This is the guisa ritual in Cape Verde, where friends and family openly express the depths of their sadness and loss. Mourning there is neither quiet nor inhibited. All of that grief is laid bare for the whole world to see. The result is a soul-shaking wail that pulls everyone around into that emotional tidal wave (even me, who had never even met her brother).

Guisa is a heartrending reminder of something we all know at our core: emotions are collective, and it is only through feeling them collectively that we heal. When we tamp down difficult emotions, we deny others opportunities to connect with us – and often, they are longing to do just that. We may think we are “sparing” someone from having to deal with our sadness, when actually we are closing off an energetic circuit of giving and receiving that is the lifeblood of all healthy relationships.

At the cemetery on Santiago that day, new bonds were forming among loved ones, even as everyone let go of a physical bond with the deceased. What cemented those new bonds was that collective wail. It was a powerful declaration to the Universe that human life is precious and must be grieved freely, for it is only by falling apart that we can pick ourselves back up again.

Like unhappy coincidences, unhappiness is something we must ultimately welcome into our lives. We learn to trust that it is pointing us forward, even if we can’t see that at the time. It is helping us to heal. As the Sufi poet Rumi wrote, our troubling emotions are actually honored guests in disguise:

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.


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