What, a coincidence?

We took my book of memoirs titled Live Long*, Learn a Little, Laugh a Lot to a big family history conference in Salt Lake City recently. Twenty thousand people gathered to learn about new and better ways to track down the genealogies and stories of their progenitors, record, and share them.

Our modest little booth was on the outskirts of the convention center, but with that many people we had lots of visitors. Some bought the book, others were interested in our pain free, talk on the telephone system of recording the stories of your life, or the life of a loved one.

I brought Martin, my guitar because he is so good at making friends. I was playing an old calypso folk tune titled “Yellow Bird.” A woman stopped in her tracks and listened. No she more than listened. She absorbed the music. Her face got kind of a dreamy look. Then her eyes got moist. When I finished she said, “How do you know ‘Yellow Bird’? Not many people do.”

“I’d like to ask you the same question for the same reason,” I replied.

She said, “My uncle who I dearly loved used to pump it out on a player piano, and sing along. I haven’t heard it since he died a long time ago. Would you mind playing it again?”

I didn’t mind, and I did play it. She thanked me and strolled off humming.

Maybe it was a coincidence that at a conference all about families and history I should stumble into a musical magic carpet that swept this woman back to a beloved uncle, an old player piano, and a precious memory.

A few years ago my wife Sharon and I were serving a mission in the Caribbean Islands.  Visiting a church group in Puerto Rico we noticed several young missionary elders gathered there enjoying one another’s company and one who wasn’t enjoying much of anything. He was by himself sitting with his head in his hands with a lonely sad look on his face.

His black hair, brown skin, and athletic build brought back fifty year old memories to me of when I was a young missionary in another group of islands in another ocean. I wasn’t sure, but thought it was worth a try. I approached him and said, “Malo lelei Misi Faifekau.” (Hello Mr. Missionary.)

He looked up, blinked, and studied me a moment, as a broad smile lit up his face. We talked awhile in his native language. Later that afternoon he, Martin and I sang some songs from Tonga, his island home. The folks gathered and loved our little performance. It turned out this young man had gone to the training center in Utah to learn English so he could go to the training center in the Dominican Republic and learn Spanish so he could come to Puerto Rico and share the gospel. He was struggling with intellectual, and emotional jet lag compounded by discouragement and homesickness. Our time hanging out together talking and singing about his beautiful homeland  helped him look to the bright side of his mission. A few weeks later we saw him again, and he was a transformed happy missionary.

I am glad I could play “Yellow Bird” and speak Tongan in those special moments.

Were the Yellow Bird lady and the homesick missionary put in my path by accident, by coincidence, by divine intervention or by luck?

I don’t know. But until I find out, I’m comfortable to go with luck according to my favorite definition. “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”