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Coincidences: Miracles or flights of fancy?

Rich Mayfield

I still don’t know if it was coincidence or providence. Waiting to board our connecting flight to Boston last weekend, it was announced that the plane had been overbooked and in need of volunteers to abandon ship.

Figuring the fall leaves would stay on the New England trees for another few hours, my wife and I, along with four other women, all decided to take both the $600 in travel vouchers and first-class accommodations offered in exchange.

Soon we boarded our alternative flight. As we took our cushy seats up front, the six of us smiled at each other like foxes who had just sneaked into the hen house.

Suddenly no one was smiling any more. One of our travel partners noticed that her seatmate was not responding to her polite conversation. She quickly realized he was not responding to anything at all. His heart had stopped. His pulse was gone. He was dead.

Our new friend and her three companions leapt from their seats. Displaying professional certainty, they began analyzing the situation, calling out instructions to each other and moving smoothly from one procedure to the next.

A stewardess inquired over the PA system if there was a doctor on board. All four women answered in unison: “I’m a doctor.” And they were. All four were headed, as we were, to Boston; only they weren’t going to look at the trees, they were planning on attending a conference for emergency room physicians.

Within moments, they had the patient in the aisle between our seats. “No pulse” announced one doctor while another opened up the airplane’s emergency kit. Another began CPR while the fourth demanded to know if a defibrillator was on board.

“Clear!” called out one of the ER docs and the lifeless body leapt off the floor as the electricity surged through him. “Clear!” she called out again and the process was repeated only this time one of her compatriots announced she now felt a pulse.

A stethoscope to the heart confirmed it. The patient was breathing again. “It’s good and strong,” declared the pulse-taking physician, “I think he’s going to make it.”

We stunned on-lookers burst into applause. The ambulance arrived and the attendants confirmed the announcement. It looked like he was going to live.

Afterward, as we all pondered what had just transpired, one of the ER doctors said to her friends, “I guess there was a reason why we were on this flight.” And the other three nodded their heads in vigorous agreement.

I realized that the conversation had now moved from biology to theology and I felt inclined to query, “I thought the reason you were on this flight was the same as mine – money.”

That is what I felt inclined to ask but I didn’t. They were outstanding professionals who had done their jobs in an extraordinary manner and I wasn’t about to dampen their celebration.

Still, I wonder.

Someone once told me that a coincidence is a miracle where God chooses to remain anonymous.

It is a pleasant, if unproven, thought that serves to help explain those odd occurrences that happen to all of us from time to time.

A couple of weeks ago, I was lying in bed enjoying that pleasant time before the morning light brought me to full consciousness. I closed my eyes and was transfixed by a beautiful image of a little baby being held in someone’s arms.

I could see the baby’s heart beating through his chest. The figure holding the child bent down and placed his ear gently over the baby’s heart. It was a beautiful tableau and I lay there enjoying its loveliness.

The alarm rang and I brought myself out of bed still smiling over the pleasant image of parent and child. I went out to pick up the paper from the porch. I pulled it out of its plastic sleeve and stared in awe at the picture on the front page.

It was of a father kneeling before his 4-year old son and listening to the boy’s recently transplanted heart.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck and I said aloud, “What does this mean?”

I’m still not sure, but anytime I share stories like these with friends, the list quickly grows of similar incidents in their lives. We sit and talk and wonder S

Does all this mean that God exists and life is more than a series of synaptic responses?

Perhaps S but it also puts me in mind of a couple of quotes I have long cherished.

The first is by H.G. Wells, hardly a man of traditional faith: “At times, in the silence of the night and in rare, lonely moments, I experience a sort of communion of myself with Something Great that is not myself.”

And this one by one of the more fervent faithful, G.K. Chesterton: “Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly.”

Rich Mayfield, a Lutheran pastor, writes a Saturday column for the Summit Daily News.

He can be reached at

pastormayfield@earthlink.net.


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