Jamie from Australia

Jamie Kuzich, doctor and musician, from Perth,Australia

Do you like travel stories? Some people hate to see the pictures their friends take on vacation. I’m personally  the opposite . . . as long as I get to hear good stories. I especially love small world/chance encounter tales.

Yesterday Serendipity bopped us on the head –over and over.

Meet Jamie. He’s a doctor (and a musician with the band Anton Franc) from Perth, Australia. He’s spending his four-week vacation (!) in New York City.

Yesterday afternoon, while enjoying a large sandwich in Central Park, Jamie decided to go online to see whether there might be any concerts that looked good. He found this one. It looked really good! The New York Philharmonic Orchestra playing at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

As Stuart and I were traveling to the city by Amtrak, we did the same thing.

We thought a free concert with some of America’s finest musicians in America’s largest cathedral, St. John the Divine sounded heavenly. We got on the subway aiming to arrive at the Cathedral two hours before the concert began.

We were dismayed to find that the line snaked all the way around the cathedral, at least three blocks! Just as we found the end, Jamie found it too. Serendipity.

What can you do in a situation like that but wait and hope to strike up a conversation, showing an interest in the other people in the line?  We started asking Jamie questions and responding to his smile, listening to his stories. He was curious about our lives too.

Time flew by!

We discussed art, music, publishing, the medical systems in two countries, and travel.

Then a lovely sight. A man came through the line and handed out tickets, passed the spot we had supposed would be the end. We were in!

After an hour of waiting in the Cathedral line

After an hour of waiting in the Cathedral line

We continued our conversation, talking about end of life care as we mounted the steps to the Cathedral. Glancing up now and then into the trees and blue sky beyond. We were alive! Talking about death with a doctor we would never have known without this city, this Cathedral, and the internet made us aware of the preciousness of the moment and of our “wild and wonderful” lives.

I felt “gooseflesh” as the Brits say.

Then gooseflesh again inside the Cathedral, where we met this sight:

Phoenix, by Xu Bing, inside the Cathedral

Phoenix, by Xu Bing, mobile inside the Cathedral, high above the chairs

The mobiles are by Xu Bing, called Phoenix, made from recycled industrial material in China. The aspirations of human beings to transform themselves and their world were palpable, before conductor Alan Gilbert of the New York Philharmonic lifted his baton.

As we listened to the program of Nielson and Tchaikovsky, more gooseflesh.

The sun rose in its chariot across the sky in Nielson’s Helios, traveled through all kinds of weather, and then set.

Critics were hard on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony when it was first performed in 1888. Apparently, the composer agreed with the critics, thinking himself to have failed because he had not mastered form.

Fortunately, the audience disagreed then, and certainly disagreed last night, jumping to their feet, clapping in spontaneous thunder, at the end.

I wish everyone in the world could experience art like this.

The 3,500 people in that audience came from all around the world. They spoke different languages. Some of them made new friends because of the line. And for all of them, the wait was part of the experience. It was an invitation to Serendipity.

After the concert, we invited Jamie for a bite to eat and drink. We chose a little Italian place on Amsterdam Ave.

And then Serendipity struck again.

I heard my name, “Shirley!”

Soon I was hugging Angel Gardner, from Goshen, Indiana, where our paths intersected for twenty years or more while she grew up as a faculty kid and Stuart and I taught at Goshen College. I hope to see Angel again tonight at my reading from Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World tonight at The Cell Theatre on 23rd St. Angel said she wants to come.

Angel and me. And Serendipity.

Angel and me. And Serendipity, who is not visible, but present!

If you try to figure the odds of meeting people from around the world and from your home town the same night at the same time, you will go crazy.

Except that you’re in New York City, where stories like this happen every day.

P.S. Our last experience with Jamie was on the subway. He was overheard speaking to us, and the young woman beside me asked, “Are you from Australia?” He smiled, and they immediately launched into animated connection. Turned out she was not only from Australia, but from Perth! I kid you not.

Tell us a travel story you love. No matter where it’s from. We’re all ears. And we love gooseflesh.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Tracy Lee Karner on May 28, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    I, too, love other people’s travel photos and pictures.

    I love the invisible Serendipity in your photos.

  2. shirleyhs on May 28, 2014 at 2:32 pm

    Thanks, Tracy. Glad to share my stories and pictures. You have a practiced eye for the invisible, I can tell.

    Thanks for starting the conversation here. My favorite part of blogging.

  3. Marian Beaman on May 28, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    You find serendipity because you are open to it and consciously aware of possibilities, Shirley. I have explained “serendipity” to the grand-children recently; they can learn the new word and be on the look out for illustrations.

    Now where did we find serendipity in our travels? Well, after riding the rails all over Europe, we rented a car close to Berne, Switzerland. A bonanza find, according to Cliff, was a bush of blackberries behind the Bed and Breakfast in Pieterlin Klosterli. We ate a lot, and put more into a plastic bag where it turned to juice in the heat. (Think – the Israelites and too much manna!)

    Fortunate, but not necessarily serendipitous, is that we didn’t crash driving in Rome or in London on the left side with Cliff at the wheel.

    I love your photo of the interior of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Though I’ve seen St. Patrick’s Cathedral, I’ve not seen this one except as I pictured it when reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

    Great post . . . here’s to more Serendipity!

    • shirleyhs on May 28, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      You’ve had so many adventures, Marian, and you have a whole set of Bible stories to plug them into. You made me chuckle with those blackberries.

      By all means put The Cathedral of St. John the Divine on your list of places to see some day. The soaring interior takes your breath away, especially because some form of art is often hanging there. Madeleine L’Engle was located in an office in this Cathedral for many years.

      Thanks for the reminder of the connection to the Year of Magical Thinking.

      Magical thinking — maybe that’s another definition for Serendipity?

  4. Vi Dutcher on May 28, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I love this travel story!!!

    • shirleyhs on May 28, 2014 at 7:46 pm

      Thanks, Vi. We love sharing the fun. And we know you do too.

  5. Elaine Mansfield on May 28, 2014 at 5:22 pm

    Synchronicity brings magic to life. Thanks for sharing the joy of your trip. The place I felt most at home was in a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan with 400 nuns and 100 monks who all wanted to speak English. My husband and I stayed for a week. Some of the monastics were Ph.D. students at Yale, others in training to work with the dying or with children or in medicine. They had incredible educational opportunities and the atmosphere was joyous, loving, and spiritual. I had a big synchronicity experience in Taiwan. Too long to tell here, but it’s on my list of blog ideas.

    • shirleyhs on May 28, 2014 at 7:50 pm

      You’ve had amazing travel experiences, Elaine. I’ve never been to a Buddhist monastery, but my husband has been to Lhasa in Tibet, which was remarkable for him also.

      Glad you enjoyed the photos. The one in the restaurant was a little too dark, alas, but it gets the joy across.

      Happy trails!

  6. Elaine Mansfield on May 28, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Great photos, too.

  7. Clif Hostetler on May 28, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Fascinating story! Karen (my wife) recently spent several days in NYC with her college mod-mates one of whom has a condominium there. From all accounts they must have had a very good time, as you are also apparently having many interesting experiences. Karen tried to describe the Phoenix mobiles, but your picture made the description complete.

  8. Ruth Ann Gardner on May 29, 2014 at 12:23 am

    So glad you encountered our daughter, Angel in NYC! Perhaps she told you, we were there last week to attend the performance of St. Matthew’s Passion at Carnegie Hall by the Oratorio Society of New York Choir, of which she is a member. We’ve also marveled at the milieu and services at St. John the Divine Cathedral, which we’ve attended with her. Though it’s fun to visit our kids in the big cities, we always happily return to Goshen – our home now for 45 years, and a great place in which to retire! (In spite of the fact that Merritt can legitimately claim NYC as his hometown…)

    Soon after you published your book, I read it on my Kindle and enjoyed it a lot! Most skillfully and lovingly written. Thank you!

  9. […] already enjoyed some once-in-a-lifetime experiences. I described some amazing encounters in my last post, and I know there will be more to […]

  10. Laurie Buchanan on May 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Goodness gracious, what are the chances?! Serendipity, indeed!

    It sounds like you and Stuart are having the time of your lives, flitting about like bees sampling pollen from a wide variety of beautiful, brightly colored flowers.

    I love the photographs you shared. The shot of the cathedral is breathtaking. I can only imagine what it sounded like as the music swelled and bathed the audience in a myriad of delicious sounds.

    Twice now in Boise, Idaho (of all places), I’ve heard: “Laurie. Laurie Hunter (maiden name), is that you?” And turned around to see a vaguely familiar face:

    The first person was someone I went to high school with.
    The second person one was someone I went to elementary school with!

  11. Elfrieda Schroeder on June 5, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    My daughter and I went to New York City several years ago, just before her ordination to the ministry. We had some very amazing experiences. Every night I talked kindly and consolingly to my very tired feet because we walked and walked from one end of the city to the other. You make me want to go again, Shirley, but my poor feet are crying “no, no, we’ve never been the same again!”

    • shirleyhs on June 11, 2014 at 3:40 pm

      Elfrieda, I found this comment after I linked to this post in my current post. Sorry I didn’t reply earlier. You made me laugh out loud. Hope your feet are taking you on lots of great adventures this summer.

  12. […] found us in the first hours of our trip, before the BEA began. I’ve already told that story.  But the “small world” stories continued even in the huge arena in the middle of BEA. […]

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