You may have seen Oprah and swimmer Diana Nyad talk about chance encounters. Here are a few more real-life stories in which serendipity leads to insight -- and a whole lot more.
I once worked on a door-to-door environmental campaign. That summer, a man living in the same building our office was situated in, who had been in the country just a few months, needed a job for beer money and the occasional meal. He saw a flier for open campaign positions and dropped by. On his first day, I trained him on canvassing. One woman we visited was busy and told us to come back later. I sent him on his way, to try talking to people alone, and went back to the woman's house. She signed up to support the campaign, then asked who the man was. I told her he was my trainee. "He loves you," she told me. "No, we just met today," I responded, a little confused. Seven years, one wedding, two wedding receptions and endless work visas later, we're married and blessing that God-awful summer job.
— Lindsey Reiser, associate writer/producer at OWN
Last year on the Fourth of July, I received news that my sister's brain cancer was progressing rapidly and her doctors weren't willing to consider another surgery. My husband and I were invited to a party that afternoon, but we showed up hours late because I was so upset. When we arrived, the host couple and a couple we'd never met were the only people left at the house. The woman unknown to me was sitting at the dining table, studying what looked like a textbook. As I walked past, I saw the words "neuro" and "oncology" over her shoulder. Turns out she was an acclaimed neuro-oncologist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I told her my sister's story through tears, and after I finished speaking, she said, "If you can get her to Chicago, I will see her on Monday." My parents drove through the night, got my sister to the hospital Monday morning and within a few days, Northwestern's new chief of neurosurgery removed the tumor that had invaded her brain. She spent the next few months recovering in Chicago, which allowed me to visit with her every day. While the cancer won in the end, the surgery bought us time, a wonderful gift.
— Kari Forsee, digital producer at OWN
I remember one time, when I was around 6 or 7, shopping with my mom and sister at Ann & Hope (a shabby predecessor to Target). I was usually well-behaved, but I had a naughty streak. My sister and I were playing hide-and-seek, and I discovered that the circular clothing racks made perfect hiding spots—like private, quiet tents. The next round, I chose the women's nightgowns rack in the lingerie section and sat listening to my sister call my name as she wandered the aisles—her voice getting more and more frantic. Suddenly, the nighties parted and a face appeared—not my sister's, not my mom's. It was a grandmotherly woman, who said sternly but not unkindly, "Your mother is worried about you. You should get out of here right now and go stay with your mother."
"Who are you?" I said.
"Your guardian angel," she said.
I believed her! And for years, I remained convinced. I thought I had a guardian angel, an older woman with an armful of bras who kept an eye on me wherever I went. It wasn't until I got to college that I realized the woman wasn't looking out for me, but for my mother, who was desperate with worry and fear (this was in the '80s, when child abduction always seemed to be in the news). Even now, whenever I see someone struggling with a child in a mall, or when I see a little kid who's escaped her parent and running for broke, I think of that woman. It reminds me how we can all keep an eye out for each other. I'm so glad that woman was the one who found me, for everyone's sake.
— Corrie Pikul, health editor at Oprah.com
Courtesy of Lynn Andriani
In 2007, I was flying back to the U.S. from China. At the Beijing airport, I saw an old woman pushing a cart stacked with suitcases, and wondered where she was headed. Two hours later, I was on the plane. There was an empty seat next to me—which I was thrilled about—but just before they closed the doors, the woman I'd seen earlier came running down the aisle. She'd checked most of her luggage but still wore one backpack on her back and another in front. She sat down next to me, still wearing both backpacks plus her coat. The flight attendant explained she had to wear a seat belt and helped her buckle it. She stayed in her seat the entire 14-hour flight, alternately staring straight ahead or sleeping. Whenever the crew served food, she'd eat half of it and put the rest in her bag. At one point, they served us little cups of ice cream. She put that in her bag, too, without trying it first. I wanted to tell her it would melt but she didn't speak English. Then I realized she'd probably never seen frozen food before. When we finally landed I watched her navigate customs and then disappear into the crowd. I still think about her. Sitting next to her for 14 hours gave me an up-close view of how vast the human experience is. (Also, every time I eat ice cream I think about what it would taste like if you'd never had it before.)
— Lynn Andriani, food editor at Oprah.com
Courtesy of Candace Braun Davison
My career started in the toilet. Or rather, with a toilet. I was ending an internship on a home-makeover show when a woman saw a toilet sitting outside my boss's office. She asked us if it was for sale. My boss said she'd give it to her for free, as long as she introduced me to someone at her company, since the show was ending and I was soon to be unemployed. The woman agreed, which led to my meeting the editor who gave me my first job—and launched my career in magazines.
— Candace Braun Davison, web editor at Oprah.com