Ah, Serendipity! The very sound of its syllables rolling off your tongue conjures images of great things happening, of halcyon vistas penetrating to the depths of your soul, of…, not really. Actually, I remember when the word remained cloaked in obscurity and became a special thorn in the sides of our Senior English students in high school.

Our teacher, one Mary Agnes Swinney by name (who became a prime example to me of serendipity, later in my life) would provide us with vocabulary words taken from our literature selections; we were first to look up and record their definitions and then to find examples of them being used elsewhere. Generally, this was a fairly straightforward task, but not with this word. We couldn’t even find it in most dictionaries; it finally reluctantly appeared from the depths of the Oxford Standard, that weighty tome usually assigned to an oaken book stand in a musty corner of a library.

SERENDIPITY: Finding of treasure where least expected

No mention was made of its antonym—–what would that be? Disappointment? Resolution? Perseverance? Actually, any of these three could describe our frustration at seeking the term’s use somewhere in the realm of English language; the year’s end arrived and still not a whisper. But all of us graduated and went on to college, confident in our use of all the other words we learned in that class. I could easily throw out “propinquity, gargantuan, exacerbate, contiguous” almost at will, and even ally some of them with their brethren. But somewhere in the recesses of my mind there still remained that unfulfilled task—-find an example!

One day while browsing through the latest copy of The Scientific American (browsing, since I didn’t have the background to understand any of the articles in any depth), I happened to close the magazine and there, in large letters in front of me, was SERENDIPITY plastered across a General Dynamics advertisement! With trembling hands, I reached for my scissors and carefully separated the cover from its mates. Truly, I had not expected to find this treasure on the back of a science mag, but then, didn’t that make it all serendipitous? This unexpected prize was saved to be sent to Mary Agnes, to complete that assignment and maybe to gain some favor in the world of literati.

I’ve occasionally reflected on that word, pleased to have observed its increased use over the last 50 years, and have tried to assess its true meaning to my satisfaction. Could it be applied to minor happenings, such as discovering coins slipped down between sofa cushions (not really, since those are always there, it’s to be expected), having a bright sunny day when the forecast was for a blizzard, biting into a pearl at an  oyster bar, or an infinity of daily occurrences? No, I’ve decided, my true serendipity lies in people.

After a half century career in various areas and levels of the educational world, I discovered that I was blessed with the best high school teachers for whom I could hope, especially and including that English teacher. As a student, like others, I went to school because that is what one does, and with no particular expectations. It was only much later that I realized the treasure that I had been given.

Throughout the years there are many who have enriched my life, people whom I met however briefly but who have had a major influence on my thoughts and actions.

In recent years, there have been many as I traveled here and there doing school accreditation visits, each of them providing some new perspective and interest to challenge my own intellect. There was a gentleman whom I met on a park bench in London, and later his father, in Troon, Scotland; a colleague with whom I worked for three days during an educational evaluation and who introduced me to the finer points of basic Islam; an Egyptian school principal and his wife, she well-known throughout the Middle East for her vocal music and he the head of a school having a fantastic special education emphasis; two sisters who have restored a private school in Cairo into eminence, through their sense of commitment and quality of performance; associate leaders with me on overseas trips to evaluate schools, etc., etc., etc. In one way or another, I continue to communicate at some level with all these folks, if only through my blogs. But in each of them, I truly found treasure. I like to consider them my friends in the “old sense” of the word, not the false new meaning generated by these pathetic social networks of people looking for shallow validation and approval.

An new example occurred a few weeks ago when, in my informal role as Chairman of the Board for the Big Horn Basin Foundation (the educational arm of the Wyoming Dinosaur Center), I struck up a conversation (not unusual, for those who know me) with an interesting looking couple coming into the museum. As it turned out, they both were born and raised in Alaska, and live in a super isolated area on Lake Clark with access only by boat or plane. The lady was born on the property, her family cabin still there. Both are accomplished writers, she having published a number of poetry books and written a novel; he has a smoothly authored narrative of growing up in Alaska, guiding, fishing, and other pursuits. They ply their trade in the peaceful surroundings of lake and forest, heating and cooking with wood and having no indoor plumbing. Electricity for the internet comes from a propane generator whose use is carefully hoarded in favor of environmental concerns. They spent several weeks in our community exploring the area, and even stayed a few days in my “guest house”. Truly, they and our discussions further enhanced my life and I hope to maintain this new friendship. And I recommend their writings: Anne Coray, “Bone Strings” poetry (one of six), Scarlet Tanager Books, and Steve Kahn, The Hard Way Home, University of Nebraska Press.

And my search for Serendipity shall continue as I meet with new people and in new places.


Well, it looks to me as if Pluto, god of the underworld down there in Hades, really has it in for the Midwest. He must be keeping Persephone there a bit too long, she perhaps having eaten more than the mythologically-prescribed six pomegranate seeds. Ceres must really be ticked, although she seems to be spending some quality time with us in the West as each day brings a bit more melting. I always liked that story better than Icarus flying too close to the sun so that the wax holding the feathers together on his wings, melted, and he fell into the sea, especially as I get ready for some overseas flying; or Daedelus having his liver torn out repeatedly through eternity, sort of like feeling you just overate at the Golden Corral.

I’m just winding down my latest short use of steroids, this time prescribed for a rash contracted from not showering immediately upon leaving the hot mineral pools here in our town. I wish some researcher would find a way to prevent prednisone from eliciting nasty side effects when taken over an extended time period; it removes every pain and ache immediately and fine tunes all the body’s systems. This is the third regimen I’ve had it prescribed, and each time I’ve felt as if I’m once again able to dunk a basketball (the last real time was at age 29). I’m almost looking forward to the next illness or condition requiring its interventive qualities.

Speaking of health issues, the peripheral polyneuropathy in my feet and legs has rested from its previous advances, making the arthritic tendencies in my neck and back more prominent in the discomfort arena. I’ve even gone to the extent of trading my low-slung Ford Fusion, a really great car, for a used Toyota Rav4, which I shall pick up tomorrow. I find it much easier to get in and out of, just like my old van, and it will have good cargo space and all-wheel drive although sacrificing some mpg.

I’m also being confronted by my new computer which, although beckoning me with its 24 inch screen and all-in-one platform, is like Circe (another one of those myth bitches) knocking off some of Odysseus’ sailors as I’m disemboweled by the dreaded Windows 8 system. We’ll just have to see if the completion of my 75th trip around the sun has added any rationality and perception to my new activities.

I am preparing for my next school visit, this time to South Korea in early February; a new grandchild will be arriving sometime in the next two or three weeks, my second son’s first child; I repeat my volunteer performance of last year at the Wells Fargo Championship Golf Tournament in Charlotte, supervising middle school age kids behind the practice range, in late April and early May. Golf season here is still several months away; I may start using some of those accrued frequent flyer miles instead, to some far away places like NZ, Australia, back to Scotland, or wherever whimsy takes me. I’m hoping for New England travel next fall all the way to Maine, but I may pass on that if the Patriots beat my Broncos this weekend. That would be untenable!

Always Be Happy   To Our Youth

2 Responses to “SERENDIPITY”

  1. Lyman R. Brothers, III MD. Rick Says:

    Hi there Bob!

    I really enjoyed reading your blog on “serendipity”. The eloquent rhetoric displayed implies an art form in prose . When will your first book be published? Your English teacher in HS would be proud!

    Yes, Prednisone is a wonder drug, but full of bad side effects. At least the polyneuropathy is better . “Getting old is not for sissies”.

    I have been really enjoying golf with my new set of Adams Idea clubs! We went to Palm Springs and spent a week playing golf…… am shooting below 100 on 18 holes…..finally. We played Indian Canyon Golf course off of South Palm Canyon. I am OCD now with the game and am aiming for 90 on 18 ! Jane is much improved as well!

    Well, be safe in South Korea and keep in touch. I have been remiss in my email correspondence…….guess you could tell!!!

    Blue Skies and Happy New Year!!

    Dr. Rick

  2. Rev. Lew Hinshaw Says:


    Thanks for your email and for the link to your blog. Been good reading your bio and posts re: Scotland and others [regretted that there were no photos to see on your photo link]. My wife Gloria and I visited Scotland in 2012 coming home from Sweden after our son Patrick’s wedding near Gavle. We stayed in Edinburgh. Enjoyed every minute of it. Took one of those day-long highland tours. Saw Sterling castle. Totally agree with your assessment of the Scottish people. We loved their quick sense of humor. Also loved eating fish and chips and drinking some ale in a local pub. I share your joy over your health news. My golf scores are the envy of those who like bowling, but I love being outdoors. I am currently working part-time in retirement as pastor of a small, rural United Church of Christ congregation a few miles out in the country from Baldwin City about 10 miles south of Lawrence]. Keeps me mentally exercised. The good folks, some of whom work the land, delight us with gifts of fresh produce. And the potluck cooking is out of this world! I also do some blogging at Safe journeys in 2014! You are welcome here any time! “Lew-boy” [150!]

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