zen and the wonder of serendipity


Marianne is really unlike any person I've ever met.  I mean, sure, she's a certified yoga instructor, whose 30 days of Yoga for Busy People continues to transform my daily life -- but I've met yoga instructors before, so that's not so unusual.   She's also an author and a lawyer, but this isn't that uncommon in my world, either.

But get this: she also happens to be a former United Nations peacekeeper, having several years ago worked in Afghanistan (yes, that Afghanistan) on human rights issues, especially for women.  And to meet someone who is a combination of all of these things?

Yeah. She's sort of exceptional.

I honestly don't remember when I started following Marianne's work.  Certainly I started reading her blog (then called "Zen and the Art of Peacekeeping") years ago.  But, as blogging allows, at some point we realized we had mutual online friends, even though I live here in the Western Hemisphere and her homeland is New Zealand (amazing how social media just blasts through those international borders, isn't it?), somehow, a friendship formed.  Over the years, we've spoken on the phone, we've even Skyped. 

But we'd never met. 

Once, a few years ago, we were even at the same airport -- San Francisco International, in fact -- waiting for separate flights.  We frantically spoke on the phone from different terminals -- me at a domestic one, her at an international one -- and realized that even though we were mere feet from meeting each other, the security lines at both terminals made it impossible for us to do so without one or both of us missing our flights. 

"I can't believe we're actually in the same place, and after all this time we still won't meet!" I wailed. 

She laughed, in that calm, Zen way of hers.  "I know.  But we will meet, Karen.  I know this." 

When her memoir, Zen Under Fire, was published last year in her native New Zealand, Marianne sent me a copy.  She inscribed it for Karen - I hope you enjoy my story. X Marianne, in her usual, calm, understated way.  I sat down immediately and devoured the book from beginning to end -- it is a phenomenal story, one that is hard to imagine:  being a civilian peacekeeper fighting for human rights, while at the same time maintaining some sanity, peace and relationships in an area of the world where it would seem impossible for them to exist.   I wanted to tell everyone about this book, but sadly, it was only available in New Zealand at the time.  

Then, a few weeks ago, I learned two things:  first, that Zen Under Fire is now available in the United States, and secondly, Marianne was about to embark on an epic tour through the United States and Canada to promote her book.  As soon as I found out, I contacted her. 

"Hey," I said, "I don't know if your tour will bring you to Houston, but if it does, we have a spare room -- I'd love for you to stay." 

Her response was immediate:  "Actually, yes, I will be in Houston!" she said.  "And I'd love to stay with you." 

Serendipity.  We were finally going to meet.


"Guess what?" she continued.  "Lucas will be with me.  You'll finally meet him, and I'll meet Marcus!" 

So it was settled.   And last week, Marianne and Lucas drove up to our front door.  Marianne hopped out of the car first, and we hugged each other like long, lost friends rather than two people who were meeting for the first time.

But in a way, we were long lost friends. 

Lucas climbed out of the car and strode toward me.  "This is Lucas," said Marianne. 

"Nice to meet you," I said, as I took his extended hand.

"You too," he answered.  His smile was warm and soft, with kind eyes. 

Marcus and Alex came out, and more introductions were made.  Because it was late, after we brought their bags in the house, we immediately set out for dinner.  Tex-Mex, natch.

"So Lucas," I said as we were comfortably settled in Marcus' car.  "What do you do?" 

"I'm in film," he said, and at our prompting, he told us the movies he'd worked on (happily, we'd seen them all).  "I actually started out at Pixar." 

"You should ask him if he knows your friend," smiled Marcus.  I looked at him quizzically.  "You know, the one who sold me his old computer." 

Suddenly, I knew who Marcus meant -- Jason, who I had met years ago when I was single, and attending a law conference in San Francisco -- he worked for one of the conference sponsors.  We were immediate friends and remained in touch over the years.  Over 10 years ago, after Marcus and I married and moved from England to Houston, Jason had found love himself and was about to move to London from San Francisco; as he was getting rid of stuff in preparation for his move, he sold us his old computer.  

Years before I met him, Jason had also worked at Pixar.

"Wow, that's a longshot, but okay ... Lucas, I don't suppose you know a guy named Jason M., do you?" Jason has a very unusual last name.

Lucas looked at me like he had seen a ghost.  "Jason ... M?"  he repeated his name slowly, incredulously.  

"Yeah.  He used to work at Pixar.  I mean ... what are the chances ..." 

"I know him." 


"I used to live with him.  We went to school together, and then we worked together.  We shared a place together." 

"NO. WAY." 

A bit more conversation confirmed that indeed, it was the same Jason.   "How can this be?" I kept saying. "A guy I met in San Francisco, who now lives in London happens to have been roommates with a guy I'm meeting now, who is the partner of a friend of mine from New Zealand ?  How?"

"Serendipity, man." 

When we returned home after dinner, I sent Jason a direct message on Twitter.  "You are not going to believe who is staying in my house right now," I wrote, including Lucas' full name.


The next morning, I'd received a response from Jason.  "Wha ... wha ... WHAT?  How is this possible?"  We quickly traded messages.  

"That is incredible," said Jason.  "This is a small world, indeed."

"No doubt," I wrote. 

"By the way, remember that old computer that I sold Marcus?"   


"That used to be Lucas'." 


Song:  Little talks, as performed by Julia Sheer & Jon D


If you'd like to meet Marianne and learn more of her story, her tour is ongoing -- you can click here to see when she'll be in a town near you.  And regardless, you really should buy her book -- it's such a page-turner, and an extraordinary story.