Thing that make you go “hmmm”

Serendipity, Fortuitous, or According to Plan?

I am supposed to be working feverishly to update my curriculum vitae in an effort to fulfill a request from the United Kingdom that might, at its conclusion, result in my having the opportunity to revisit Libya and assist with their technological needs – a job I’ve done before under the previous Ghadafi-led government, but the results of which have been partially bombed off the map by the war last year.  The mere fact that this has happened has caused me to pause and reflect.  I, just moments ago, got off the phone with a lady in northern Ireland whom it seems, by mere happenstance, is possessed of the connections necessary to make this happen. Is it amazing? Yes. It is guaranteed? Not at all.  It is merely a conversation at this point; two people of like ideals and common goals trying to find a way to help a people that are in dire need of help and who are trying to reach out to get it.

The fact that it happened at all is what I want to focus on for a moment. For the sake of privacy, I’ll not reveal the person, but instead will reveal what led up to the event. I’m stuck, sitting here at the keyboard, with the unwavering belief that is has to be in accordance with some plan greater than anything I could ever be granted the wisdom of orchestrating. Add to my philosophical conundrum the fact that it’s occurring almost one year to the day from the day I became “famous” and I’m left even more in awe of how the world sometimes works.

One year ago, almost to the day, a professor in Ireland told her class to go “check out the American guy who shot his daughter’s laptop.” The class instruction was apparently to follow him on Facebook, find out what you can, and discuss in class what your thoughts are on the matter. The teacher herself didn’t even follow me, had no desire to. It was just a teaching exercise she chose to use in her university class. What the purpose or outcome of the class was, I have no idea – only that it happened.

Three-hundred and sixty-three days later, I made a post on Facebook about my wife’s veterinary business web site. Amongst the commenters, all of which I read, was a single solitary comment from a viewer who randomly saw my public post. She saw the post because apparently some of her students still follow me. Since they follow me, the post made it on their wall, and she saw it there.  Someone over 4,126.5 miles across the earth saw a random post I made about nothing special at all.

Once again, whether by fortuitousness, or design, she was inspired to make a single small comment that she liked the website and wished she had some help on the website for her organization. What are the odds that comment stuck out to me? What series of circumstances made it possible for that one little single-line comment to interest me enough to respond to it? Well, I did. I’m not sure why I did, but I did. I get requests like this all the time; all web developers do. Few, if any of us, can take the time to help out every individual who needs work for little or no budget. Regardless, for some reason I responded to her.

The next day a few emails are exchanged between this college professor and me. I offered a few quick tips that would improve the site and offered to help in a small way if I could – ending the email by including my phone number and encouraging her to call if she had time. I had no idea at the time that the person wasn’t here in the US, nor who she was.

While on the phone a couple hours later, I got a call-waiting indicator from someone in the UK. I recognized the +44 prefix and decided to take the call. If nothing more than out of idle curiosity, I told the other caller I’d call them back and switched lines. It was the same person I’d emailed, calling to see if I had a moment of time to speak about it. I’d earlier told her it was probably easier to talk about it, rather than spend time emailing back and forth with minutiae.  She took me up on the offer.

Within a few moments, and after finding out about what the website does and its humanitarian purpose, I offered to login and take a look. I setup a simple screen-share so she could digitally watch over my shoulder as I made a few quick modifications to the web site.

While working on the menu, specifically on a few lists of nationalistic and religious categories the web site serves content to, she gave me an Arabic menu item and commented as I typed that I most likely wouldn’t be able to spell it. I laughed and commented that I had it under control, pronouncing the name back to her with its appropriate spelling. She later stumped me on another word I didn’t know, but the interest of both of us was piqued already.

While waiting on the server to do its update, I commented that I had some experience with the Arabic language and its cultures. To my immediate and profound surprise, so did she. A conversation ensued in which I told her of my time overseas in Libya. Delighted to have a conversation with someone who had actually been there and who spoke fluent Arabic, we spent half an hour detailing the ins and outs of my experiences there and the current state of affairs.

We reached a point in our conversation where she commented that she was sure I’d enjoyed it, but that I’d never want to take on such a thing again at this point in my life. I quickly relieved her of that notion – indeed my time in Libya was some of the greatest moments in my life; the most educational, the most peaceful, and by far the most interesting. I commented that I’d give almost anything to be able to go back and do what I did there before.

What are the odds? I mean really – think about this? What are the odds that someone who happens to be professional acquaintances with some of Libya’s top people in their new fledgling democratic government would happen to be on the phone with me about a website edit in yet another country, and that during that conversation she would discover my burning desire to return there and work and I would in-turn be sharing that desire with a person with the connections to make it possible? The mere improbabilities of these random sequences of events occurring in nature are beyond my capabilities to even fathom!

Let’s synopsize this again. My daughter makes a Facebook post. I make a YouTube video in response and post it on Facebook. A teacher in the United Kingdom assigns me and my family as a homework assignment to a college class, instructing them to follow me and learn more about me. She, herself, never does so. One year later, I make a post about a website. One of her former students somehow makes it available in such a manner that she sees it. That same UK college professor clicks that link, out of all the potential things to read and comment on that day in her enormously busy schedule. She comments about the design – one simple line of text. I comment back and an email dialogue is started. The phone rings from the UK and I answer it. (I usually don’t because it’s usually the UK media or some UK television show.) We talk about websites. I offer to help pro-bono. Server lag creates a pause in conversation whereby the Arabic nature of a menu item starts a discussion about the culture. To be precise, the fact that I knew how to pronounce the “kha” sound surprised her and started that discussion.  I tell my story about Libya and my desire to help out again there if it were ever possible. She happens to know someone to make that happen. We hang up. She emails that person and they want to start a dialogue. Today we talk again and it has become more than just a conversation. Today it is an idea with a beginning and a potential plan to implement.

I’m not one for reading tea leaves, listening to fortune tellers, or believing the universe itself has a plan. I don’t subscribe to the Norse beliefs of a web of interconnected lines that when plucked, resonate throughout the cosmos and pull the interconnected strings of others.

I’m fairly simple. I believe that God has a plan for all of us, and that whether we deserve it or not, just out of the kindness of His heart, he sometimes tosses an apple to us, even to those of us who don’t deserve it. I also believe I fall short of living within the plan He would prefer me to follow.  Actually I KNOW that I do. Both my language and my life reflect sometimes less than nicely on someone who professes to be a Christian.

But some days, today being one of those, I just have to smile in the knowledge that sometimes random coincidence just can’t possibly be responsible for the way things align. Sometimes, there is a hand in things. Today, for me, was one of those days.



4 thoughts on “Thing that make you go “hmmm”

  1. Tommy,

    I was a person who wasn’t exactly sure what I thought about you when I first heard of your story, but I subscribed to your Facebook updates anyway. It’s been really interesting to follow along for the past year; particularly when you share something which shows that you are, like most people, more complex than whatever “box” people have tried to put you in, based on what they think they know about you.

    As for serendipity, if what could in some contexts be considered a “moment of weakness” when you shot your daughter’s laptop, ends up leading to you going back to Libya to do something that sounds important to you; well that would almost be the epitome of the word, wouldn’t it? 🙂

    Good luck, hope it all works out.

  2. I have always believed in “the ripple effect”, and I’ve rarely seen a better example of it. The development of this impending offer makes for interesting reading (though personally I think that perhaps you live up to God’s will for you better than you think). Ya might not be perfect, but you make a perfectly good representative for charities, craftsmen, and family-values.
    I’m just proud to know of you and I wish you the very best if that is His will.
    (I only know two phrases of Arabic…shame neither fits here…)
    J R

  3. Ever notice how, when something like this happens, you end up in a place where you are needed? It’s happened to me a couple times in the past, though nothing quite so dramatic or life-altering as where your journey in this instance began (thankfully).

    I try to explain to my children that these are the kinds of series of events that you look back on and realize that there is a force that moves through our lives and acts upon us, whether you call that force “God”, “karma” or something else is pretty much irrelevant. Sometimes I’ve been able to sense it at the outset, most times it’s only at the culmination of the series of events that I can look back over it and see the links of the chain that eventually formed.

    It goes much smoother if you are a willing participant. Whatever or whoever is behind the creation of these chains can get mighty pissy if you resist falling in line, lol.

  4. I’m a firm believer everything in life happens for a reason, we may not always know what that reason is or why things happen when they happen, or what the fall out is going to be, but somewhere along the line, it will all come together, like it is supposed to. I believe we all have a detestation that we have to get to, but to get there we have to experience certain difficulties, because without that experience we won’t ever get there. The man upstairs has a plan, trust in him and everything else should come together.
    All I have left to say… Is good luck with the future..

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