Mens Temporum . UK

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A Christmas Card in Time

Returning to more recent times, I have already mentioned that the phenomenon happens so naturally in our daily lives that we do not often see it for what it is unless something about it strikes us a particularly unusual, but even then when such an incident is taken in isolation we discard it as an isolated coincidence. Here is a very mundane example in contrast to the more spectacular incidents that I have mentioned previously. It does however illustrate an important point.

Statisticians explain that the principle of very large numbers implies that very unusual coincidences are bound to happen in many places at many times, which is why I restrict this site to recording only my own experiences and none other. My leisurely life in retirement involves few very large numbers and during many weeks its highlight can often be no more than a shopping trip to the local supermarket. Another example of the very small numbers in my life is that I seldom send out any more than five Christmas cards but even with this number odd coincidences are possible. Before one particular Christmas I knew that I had just five cards to write without the need for a Christmas list. My wife has often written more but I only send cards to people specifically considered to be my people rather than hers. I wrote the cards well before Christmas and ensured that the envelopes were properly addressed and stamped before walking to the post box with them. At the box I once again checked through the four envelopes to ensure that all was well before putting them in. No, wait for it please; you are probably getting ahead of me here.

Only days before Christmas I received a card from the one person out of the five to whom I had omitted to send one without ever realising it. With the card was a note stating that she had moved to a new address earlier in the year. I had just a couple of hours before the final post for Christmas delivery was collected from the box, so I quickly wrote a card and posted it to her at her new address. In psychical research circles one of the known effects of the phenomenon is that it causes people to forget to do something if this brings about the desired result, which in this case was clearly my sending the card to the right address at the last moment instead of to the wrong address some time before. The fact that I had only two hours to react was also apparently typical in that the phenomenon seems effective at finding even the narrowest opportunity to change the course of events. Obviously influencing someone to forget to do something that they intended to do can often be much easier than influencing them to do something that they weren’t contemplating.

A sceptic would no doubt argue that this was just a simple coincidence, so in an effort to support this view to prove my lack of bias I will now cite a similar case with a very different outcome. Well before a subsequent Christmas I again wrote my handful of cards and sent them out. I make a habit of telephoning the elder of my two sisters very shortly before Christmas as her birthday also falls a few days after that day and in particular on this occasion it would be her ninetieth. However, she told me that she didn’t consider that to be at all significant as she regarded birthdays as being important just to children. The conversation moved on to her own children and she mentioned that her daughter and her husband had moved house. My niece was a recipient of one of my cards, so that bothered me. She also told me that she didn’t think that the couple were sending any cards that year. She didn’t give me their new address and I could only hope that my card would be redirected to them as there was no time left to send one. Shortly after Christmas I received a belated card from my niece with a note of their new address. Either my sister had mentioned the matter to her or my card had in fact reached them.

At first sight it would appear that this incident supports the view that the first was a simple coincidence but on closer inspection it becomes clear that the two are very different. In the case of the latter I cannot think how any action on my part beforehand could have improved the situation. I would at least have had both to have forgotten to send a card to the wrong address originally and also telephoned my sister much earlier to have time to send one after that, assuming that she could even have found her daughter’s new address to give to me. Given that things turned out reasonably well anyway the difficulties in influencing this combination of events to happen could hardly have been worthwhile, so I am not surprised that the phenomenon didn’t take a hand. Also, after the first incident I was even more careful not to overlook anyone when writing my cards, so it would have been particularly difficult for the same influence to have worked on the second occasion. Also on the first occasion I had no independent way of getting any information about the friend involved, so it required a distinctly different approach.

In a way this is an example of the old adage that lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice, presumably having destroyed its chosen path on the first occasion.

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