On the topic of serendipity


Serendipity. Not the most common of words. I only learnt it some 6-7 years ago when I was in graduate school in the States. It was my social anthropology professor who used it in class when he was telling the story of an anthropologist in history who had made a random but all the same a very exciting discovery without even having been looking for it. My professor, Prof. C., had to pause his story to tell the class what the word meant as I believe almost everyone in the room, including my American native English speaking class mates, looked questioning at him when he had the described the anthropologist’s pleasant discovery as pure serendipity, quite the serendipitous moment. I remembered that moment in class, scribbling down the word in my notebook the way I guessed it should be spelled, I think got it right (!), and rolled it over my tongue. I loved that word – Serendipity. I liked the way it sounded when Prof. C said it in his mature, somewhat noble, yet relaxed and cheeky Greek-immigrant-newspaper-boy voice; I liked the way it looked on my paper with a capital S and a rushed non-polished handwriting; and I liked the way it played in my mouth as I said it quietly to myself a few times – a British pronunciation? Perhaps American? The word stayed with me. Serendipity. It had an interesting meaning too; a positive, surprising encounter by chance that in my mind translated into slight mystique.

Phonetically the word is versatile, with a number of ups and downs in intonation making it sound rather melodic, as if it skips lightly a few times and then finally hops off the tip of your tongue. I picture the white dressed dervish dancers of Turkey and Iran whirling round and round with their skirts floating high and wide around their bodies…Ssssss….errrrrrr…eeeeee..nnnnn…. and then a chance in music and they skip….di! pi! ty! Or possibly as a romantic ballet performance, with gracious long slow stretched movements right before the vigorous high-toe hopping away across the stage. The initiating S graphically constitutes half of the symbol for eternity, you know, the number 8-shaped symbol laying down where you can follow the lines up and down, forward and back again and always return to the same pattern, over and over again, for an eternity. S is a sleek sexy letter yet fun and squiggly. There are so many different reasons to love the word!

I don’t recall ever having looked up the word in a dictionary. I just went by what Prof. C said and on the very rare occasions I actually did use the word in writing or speaking it was most often, if not always, within the realm of anthropology where I soon came to realise it was commonly used in ordinary expressions. Today, if I hover over it with the cursor and control-click, the computer dictionary generates the following synonyms: chance, fate, destiny, karma, providence, luck, fortune, coincidence, accident, and kismet. Perhaps some of these words are more familiar to you? I also just googled serendipity and the first hit is *of course* from Wikipedia which states that “Serendipity means a “happy accident” or “pleasant surprise”; a fortunate mistake. Specifically, the accident of finding something good or useful while not specifically searching for it.” That pretty much sums it up!

In this blog, Stockholm Serendipity, I sat out to write about some of the things that cross my path in life. Moments, which for some reason have stuck with me, situations I have found myself in and continued contemplating, and a variety of topics I come across when communicating with the world. The actual subject matters of these discoveries per se are indeed not always happy pleasant or positive, yet I consider the fact that I stumble upon them a real luck for me, it is indeed often unexpected – quite serendipitous.

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