Somewhere there must be storehouses
where all these lives are laid away
like suits of armor or old carriages
or clothes hanging limply on the walls.
Maybe all paths lead there,
to the repository of unlived things.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God
When I seek out the sources of my thoughts, I find they had their beginning in fragile Chance; were born of little moments that shine for me curiously in the past. Slight the impulse that made me take this turning at the crossroads, trivial and fortuitous the meeting, and light as gossamer the thread that first knit me to my friend. These are full of wonder; more mysterious are the moments that must have brushed me evanescently with their wings and passed me by: when Fate beckoned and I did not see it, when new Life trembled for a second on the threshold; but the word was not spoken, the hand was not held out, and the Might-have-been shivered and vanished, dim as a dream, into the waste realms of non-existence.
— Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia: A Collection of Reflections & Aphorisms
You and I have never met, many times before. Our paths might have crossed once or twice online, or passing in the street. We might’ve spent an hour sitting back-to-back at the same airport gate, or even exchanged a a few words over the phone, when I dialed your number by mistake. For all we know, we might have been living in the same neighborhood for decades—but against incredible odds, we just happened to miss each other. It’s a big world, after all.
Our days must be filled with these chance encounters, that for a million tiny reasons, never actually happen. Our streets must be teeming with accidental strangers, who just happened to miss their cue—who share everything in common, except for time and place. For years, their stories might’ve been happening in parallel, harmonizing from somewhere across the world, but neither has any idea that the other even exists. If two lines are truly parallel, it means they’ll never actually meet.
It’s hard not to think of your own near-misses, veering away on a tangent, in some alternate universe. The person who would’ve been your best friend in the world might be out there somewhere, milling around a party you weren’t invited to. Your business partner might be sitting on half of a world-changing idea, waiting for your contribution to arrive, though it never will. It’s hard not to glance at a stranger in a crowd, and imagine the life you might have shared, if only things had been different— feeling a pang of missed connection as you carry on your separate ways, leaving nothing but an echo of something that might have been.
You never know how many things had to happen exactly right for you to meet the one you love. You never know how easily fate might have tipped you onto some other course, meeting some stranger, who would feel like a soulmate. As you sit there on your commuter train, wrapped up in your own concerns, you have no way of knowing how close you’re sitting to the person you might have loved, who you might have spent years with, even built a family. You would have looked across the room at this same face, and struggled to imagine life without them, telling yourself that it was always meant to be. As if you had known all along that your paths would cross eventually.
Maybe you were always destined to be sitting right where you’re sitting. Or maybe it’s a miracle that you managed to meet the people you did, knowing how many obstacles might have gotten in the way. Or maybe it’s nothing personal, and it was all just a coincidence. You never know.
— John Koenig, “Moment of Tangency,” The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows