In the late ‘80’s I went to Japan to play jazz with my college big band. It was amazing. The mayor of Nagoya took us out to an amazing Chinese restaurant on our first night there. We were put up in great hotels and played in front of enormous crowds. Back home our audiences were mostly made up of students taking a Jazz Studies course who had to be there or face a bad grade. Not the most enthusiastic group.
One night a few of us snuck out after curfew to check out a bar we heard about with live music. As soon as we walked through the door, the whole place turned and stared. They all knew exactly who we were. The three of us did kind of stand out. I had long red hair at the time and my friends were one six foot four tall black guy and a blond hair, blue eyed kid about five foot four. Not the usual clientele in this small city watering hole.
The band played pretty good, especially the singer. The beautiful girl sang with a sweet and high soprano. Creamy, lush tones wrapped themselves through my ears and around my heart. The owner sat us at a table front and center in the front. Drinks arrived one after the other sent by patrons trying to show their generosity. After the first bottle of Saki it became difficult to hold back our laughter. I felt bad, but listening to “My Funny Valentine” sung phonetically by this young woman who didn’t speak English, no matter how gorgeous her voice was…it got to be too much.
Soon the entire club started cheering us on and on to get up on stage. Since they plied us with more alcohol than any of us were yet used to, we accepted and climbed up to the instruments. We played a few tunes and had a terrific time. Despite the Marshall stack blasting in my head and my face to bowl familiarity with the toilet the next morning, it is still a great memory.
On our day off the bus took us to an ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Being from America, we don’t truly have any idea of how the rest of the world perceives history. Our country is only a few hundred years old, so the concept of this temple being here for over a thousand years overwhelmed me.
I walked around taking in the beautiful architecture and perfectly manicured gardens. A few of us stood in line to put prayer tiles on the wall amongst other wishes and dreams that had been there for near a millennia. I don’t remember what I wrote down, but it was probably something about being famous or getting some girl to dig me. Hey, I was only seventeen at the time. Come on!
I turned around from the wall and standing right behind me in line were two faces that completely disrupted my understanding of coincidence. It had been close to a decade since the last time we were in the same room together, let alone the same state. But there they were, my Great Aunt Shirley and Uncle Oscar.
They didn’t recognize me from behind because of my long hair and the fact that I was now taller than both of them. To me, they looked exactly the same. We screamed and yelled and hugged and kissed. Everyone took pictures and talked about how small of a world it is. It turned out they were in Japan for business and happened to be visiting the temple while taking some time for sight seeing. Never in a million years could we have predicted we would bump into each other at an ancient Buddhist temple in Kyoto, Japan. But, there we were. True story.
After I graduated from college, Aunt Shirley and Uncle Oscar invited me to come visit them in Florida and spend some time with their grandson who happened to be around the same age as me. It turned out we had a lot in common. The beach, Disneyworld, golfing…it was a great time. We told each other we would keep in touch, but life got in the way and we drifted, as people tend to do when they live on the opposite sides of the continent.
More than twenty years later…
My parents came to visit us a couple of weeks ago. The plan was that they would spend a week here, go down to New York for a few days to visit my Mother’s cousins and then come back here before they went home. We spent the latter half of my kid’s spring break with them and after the boys returned to school everything proceeded as planned. One hiccup though. While in New York, Dad got sick.
He started having vision problems in his left eye and spiked a high fever. The coincidence here is that one of the cousins they were visiting happened to be a doctor. Not just any doctor mid you, but from what I’ve been told he specializes in ocular neurology. That means he knows all about the eyes and the brain.
Did I mention that this cousin, this doctor happens to be the grandson of Aunt Shirley and Uncle Oscar? Yup. He’s the same cousin from that trip to Florida.
Yeah. Wow. Here we are, more than two decades later and we have another crazy coincidence with the same two families.
So the world is very small indeed. Sometimes it’s small in fun memorable ways. Sometimes it’s in important, life changing ways. You never know what the next experience will bring.
Sometime soon I’m going to pack up the family and head down to New York. While we’re there we’ll be sure to spend time with my cousin and thank him for taking such good care of my parents. I can’t wait to see whom else we may bump into while we’re there.