“A safe but sometimes chilly way of recalling the past is to force open a crammed drawer. If you are searching for anything in particular you don’t find it, but something falls out at the back that is often more interesting.” James M. Barrie
When I was attending Hudtloff Junior High School my parents bought a set of The World Book “The perfect student learning companion.” World Book was an encyclopedia. Invariably, I would use the books to find particular information and end up reading about something else. It was a great way to learn. I have the same experience with the internet. It’s easier to zero in on a subject with Google, but there are still entries that catch my eye and generally enhance the information I was basically looking for . . . or lead me down a different path of unplanned, fortuitous discovery. That unplanned path leading to discovery is called serendipity. Don’t bother to look it up.
Several weeks ago a friend, Richard Dorsett told me where the word serendipity came from. Horace Walpole coined the phrase in the 18th century from an ancient Persian fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” The princes continually made discoveries as they journeyed. Serendip was the ancient name of the island country of Sri Lanka. A week later I was writing a review of Peter and the Starcatcher being produced at the Lakewood Playhouse. The play is based on novels where the main character is Peter Pan, who was created by James Barrie. In researching James Barrie, I came across the (above) quotation. A week later while getting my hair cut at Positive Image on Sixth Avenue, the owner Sharon Leverson mentioned the John Cusack film Serendipity.
The mind is an endless series of connections and reconnections and so is history, discovery, love, and life in general. Knowing where we’re going is a straight line to some people and very useful in project management, but not knowing where we are going can be more fun and more creative. Serendipity gave us the discovery of penicillin, the creation of Post-it notes. and the invention of the microwave.
Barrie’s crammed drawer foretold the computer age. To me James Barrie’s drawers mean old folders and files on my hard drives as well as sliders and compartments in cabinets. Images, toys, letters, and notes attract my attention. I write down ideas or concepts that mean something at the time and years later they sometimes take on greater meaning and importance.
We learn from our experiences and that adds interest as we travel the road that carries us forward to some unseen destination.