The world, indeed, is small

For years I’ve kept a log of “small world” occurrences. These are the events you witness that seem unlikely to the point of absurdity. Connections between disparate people in your life, one-in-a-million-trillion chance circumstances. I started this list after the following occurrence.

It was Sunday, the weekend drawing to a close. I was at a campground called June Norcross Webster, a popular spot during my years in Boy Scouts. I was 16, maybe 17, and had recently won a teenage right of passage: I passed my driving test. As such, I’d driven myself to the campout, 40 minutes northeast across Connecticut, from Marlborough to Ashford.

As our crew packed our gear into cars and prepared to head out, my friend Ben asked me if I would mind giving him a ride. His house was on my route home. I hesitated.

Earlier that year, a law had been passed in Connecticut mandating that new drivers, for their first six months on the road, drive only with similarly licensed passengers, 20 years and older. Ben, a classmate of mine, was neither. After some thought, during which I weighed the balance of a solid favor for a friend and the potential dire consequences of being found out, I said yes. The likelihood of discovery, I thought, was next to zero.

I dropped Ben at his house and arrived back at mine without incident.

Later that evening, my Dad walks into my room. In my memory, I’m laying on my bed, finishing homework that will be due the next morning.

“So I heard you drove Ben Tulman home today.”

He spoke with a confidence that dared me to challenge him. But I didn’t, because only a feat of mind reading could have betrayed my secret. Aghast, I admitted to my wrongdoing and my use of the car was promptly revoked for two weeks. But before he left me to sulk in my guilt, I needed to understand how this had happened.

“How… how did you know that?”

Hold on to your butts. This one gets weird.

Let us say that there are two brothers: Craig, who lives in Pennsylvania, and Bruce, who lives in Vermont. Craig makes wind chimes out of old silverware. To this end, he occasionally travels around New England, selling his crafts at markets. On this particular weekend, he was at just such a craft fair in Connecticut.

Ben, arriving home mid-afternoon, calls his mother to inform her that he is safely home. “My buddy Mike Fowler drove me home”,* *he’d have said. Innocuous, innocent.

Ben’s mother, on a warm, pleasant Sunday, is perusing a craft fair in Connecticut when she walks upon a man selling wind chimes made from old silverware. “Afternoon, I’m Craig”, the man behind the table might have said to her, and in that moment a gear would have clicked in her head.

“Do you, by chance, have a brother named Bruce?”, she asked.

“I sure do!”, Craig responded.

“How funny, I think I went to high school prom with him!”, she said. They were tickled.

Shortly afterwards, Craig phones Bruce with the funny news. “You’ll never guess who I met today”, he’d have said. A “small world” incident in and of itself, no doubt. And it could have ended there. Except for that later that day, Bruce called his and Craig’s other brother, Dwight.

Dwight Fowler. My father.

“You’ll never guess who Craig ran into at a craft fair today!”, Bruce might have said. And then the clincher.

“Yea, she said Michael gave her son Ben a ride home today. Small world!”