There is more to the human experience than I believe meets the eye.
There are bonds between people. There are coincidences that aren’t really merely coincidences at all, but are so-called because the forces at play are invisible.
At a fundraising benefit dinner on April 24 for the school in Tanzania at which I had worked in 2014, I shared with the attendees that we can all look back on our lives and realize how connection and coincidence had transpired to allow for incredible happenings and experiences.
I used my meeting the school founder as an example that would eventually lead to me being before this very group of 100 supporters. I could also cite my recent trip to Thailand and how that all came together five years removed from an initial meeting before last fall’s coincidental(?) reintroduction to the school which would hire me–and then ask me document their trip to Thailand.
Not all examples are so clear, but the more pronounced they are, the more profound–and the better they serve as evidence that this invisible connectedness is real, and that those who get to experience it vividly are fortunate.
Probably the best, most reliable, example are identical twins.
On May 20, I called my grandmother. She had tried to call me on my birthday (May 15) but I had been away. When we spoke, she shared with me some sad news. Her sister had passed. And this wasn’t just her sister. It was her identical twin: Grandma Jeannette and her sister Annette.
Annette had a heart condition. Grandma said to me on the phone that she would know when her sister was suffering through a down spell in her health–despite them being two states apart (Minnesota, Nebraska). Grandma said, “I’d ask Annette, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were sick rather than make me feel it?'”
To me, what was interesting about Grandma’s statement wasn’t just the apparent connection she had with her sister. It was that she said the above sentence as casually as if she were talking about food or clothing. These twins’ connection was just a normal part of their lives.
Grandma holding her and Annette’s high school graduation photo
These kinds of unseen connections have been written about for ages. I don’t think there many scientists who will go on record to back up such phenomena, though, because as far as I know it isn’t measurable nor are there any studies showing concrete evidence for it. It’s just examples of long-term coincidental events like my trip to Thailand or series of events that highlight (or were just a normal part) of Grandma and her sister’s life. And such events can always be explained by something else–coincidence, odds, the fact that someone had to be there, or why not the events that happened?, etc.
Scientists shy away from suggesting an unseen connection, because it assumes that you’re drifting toward the miraculous. Or that God controls everything. But why does it have to be all or nothing? How about just a general connection between humans–between some more than others; some force at play that helps shape outcomes and occurrences and situations and meetings; something to acknowledge, perhaps something we even have a hand in, but something we’re unconscious of and so something we cannot control. We just get to go for the ride while living our lives.
At some point, when seeing how human lives are imbued with this phenomena, you start to accumulate enough examples where trying to explain it away with mere chance becomes cumbersome. Reaching for an accepted scientific explanation starts to become more of a stretch than it is to simply acknowledge this unseen influence. It’s like dark matter. We can’t see it. But we know it’s there because of its effect on other matter. Such a broader scope helped convince one researcher I used to work for of this connection.
For about 18 months, from 2005-2006, I worked for the Minnesota Center for Twin Family Research at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The “Minnesota Twin Study” is famous for discovering the first examples of identical twins raised apart. The most famous perhaps were the “Jim Twins” reunited in 1979 at the age of 39 after being separated at four months of age.
Their similarities were uncanny: “…they discovered they both suffered from tension headaches, were prone to nail biting, smoked Salem cigarettes, drove the same type of car and even vacationed at the same beach in Florida.”
After having seen several hundred pairs of twins in his career, Dr. David Lykken, principal researcher and founding member of the study, said that he wished he could have been a twin. He said this to us employees well into his retirement at a Twin Study staff meeting. The white-haired, elderly man sat hunched over in a chair in the front of the room in Elliott Hall, and shared how he couldn’t deny the connection between identical twins and that he would have loved to have had that experience in his life. He died just weeks later.
Dr. David Lykken (1928-2006)
In literature and conversation, we speak of chemistry, electricity, that something “clicked” between two people. We may get to know someone so well, “we can finish each other’s sentences.” This documentary from PBS offers an incredible tale of how two orphaned twins found one another, and then despite being raised on separate continents, how their similarities and connection knew not that distance.
Watching this documentary, I realize that these twins aren’t just lucky for getting to experience this unseen connection. But because such experiences are so precious and rich, they exemplify the reasons we live: to feel deeply and experience great things.
I’m sorry that my grandmother lost her sister. But I’m happy that she had almost 80 years to have an identical twin and feel connected to someone in such a profound way.
Grandma’s sister Annette died May 12 of this year. Grandma told me about that day–and the night before.
“I had a funny dream. I was trying to find her (Annette). I was calling and kept looking for her. Then I awoke and said, ‘no she’s gone.'”
Of course, Grandma knew her sister had a heart condition. So her acknowledgment of her sister’s death had reasonable context. But what she felt seemed no less compelling a reason to believe that there was something tangible between them.
“It felt like I was cut right in two,” Grandma continued.
Jeannette and Annette’s graduation in 1954
I empathized the best I could by sharing stories I had heard about the remarkable nature of identical twins when working at the Twin Study.
“They sent me questionnaires,” replied Grandma. “They’ve been sending it for years.”
After a beat, I asked, “Grandma, you were part of the study?”
She doesn’t remember how far back it started, but years, perhaps decades, ago, her and Annette were asked to take part in a particular inventory of identical twin data as part of the overall study.
“Oh man, I think I had 100 questions,” Grandma sighed referring to the questionnaire. But she always filled out the information, which surprised me because Grandma is a private person.
“If they care enough to keep track of the twins, then I feel I should answer it,” she explained to me.
The data I had seen when working for the study, that the Twin Study researchers had reviewed and cited in their journals, the examples Dr. Lykken referred to just weeks before his death, included my own grandmother.