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The Goddess of Serendipity

Joyce Marcel

Winter is the time of cold and dark, when we implore all our gods and goddesses to bring back the light and warmth of the sun. So I thought I might put in a plug for the goddess I worship most. Her name is Serendipity.

Loving Serendipity is a corollary of living in the moment, because you have to have a certain amount of awareness to recognize her presence, and a certain flexibility of mind and soul to take advantage of her gifts. You can't make too many plans. You can't have too many fixed ideas.

On the simplest level, Serendipity is "the gift of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for," according to my battered dictionary.

So, for example, when I recently stayed in New York with my friend Andrea, and we started out for the Whitney Museum to see the Kara Walker show, and decided, after walking just a few blocks, that we first needed the sustenance of Japanese food, and had a lovely sushi and tempura meal, and started talking, and started baring our hearts to each other, and started crying, and our friendship deepened, and we never reached the museum - that's Serendipity at work.

I'm not saying we wouldn't have had an emotional and soul-changing experience at the Whitney. It's just that instead, we found something valuable and agreeable and entirely unexpected on the second floor of a light-filled Japanese restaurant.

To worship Serendipity, you have to love the thrill of the chase. For example, go into the supermarket with a shopping list and I bet you come out with pretty much everything on the list. Compare that with shopping in the "dented" stores along Route 12 in New Hampshire, where bad and discontinued new product ideas (flavored water for dogs, anyone?) meet dented cans and slightly out-of-code cereal and vegetables. You never know what you'll find there - a stack of fine chocolate bars, or Rao's pasta sauces (the best), or organic cookies almost out of code but very tasty, or tissues in slightly crushed boxes - all at heavily discounted prices.

The joy of denting, however, has faded somewhat as times get harder. Too many people are shopping there now because they have to. The thrill of the hunt is diminished in the face of people's need.

TJ Maxx, on the other hand, which sells high-end leftovers from the big department stores at bargain prices, was designed for people like me.

Although my worship of the Goddess of Serendipity is somewhat lighthearted, she has also served me well in serious situations. For example, 18 years ago she brought my husband to me. I was looking for a roommate. The new sports guy at the paper happened to be looking for one, too. He was big and gruff and silent, and I didn't know anything about him. But one day, while I was talking to another reporter, he shot a comment across the desk that was so funny and so on target that it literally dropped me, laughing, to the floor. Luckily, by then I knew enough about humor to realize it can't exist without insight and intelligence. We signed a lease together soon after; six months later, we decided to take a chance on love.

My affection for the Goddess of Serendipity has led me to become wary of bright and shiny new products, which keeps me from overextending my credit cards. Instead, I'm a raving addict of the flea markets, resale shops and auction houses on three continents. You should see my house - my husband calls my decorating style "Guatemalan thrift shop."

There are drawbacks to living your life by improvisation and unpredictability. For one thing, "Be here now" means having a shaky grasp on the past and the future. I could be called flighty and flaky. I probably won't ever be wealthy. Doing one thing and one thing only? Keeping my nose to the grindstone? Keeping my eye on the prize? I don't think so.

I chose a profession, journalism, where searching for the new and unexpected is a primary object. Being an observer of the ever-changing life around me is a deep part of my core personality. I write every day, but always about different people and things. It would take a different god, the God of Probability, for me to ever be "discovered" and elevated to fame and fortune. So far, he's managed to turn a blind eye to my endeavors.

Still, in a time as fluid as this one, maybe adaptability and being open to change is a virtue. What most of us don't like about the present political climate is that the presidential candidates of both parties seem cardboard and scripted. Terrified of making a false move - or a real one, for that matter - they are enemies of the Goddess of Serendipity.

Things don't always happen as they're supposed to. The even money shot doesn't come in. Goliath gets his ass kicked by David. Five U.S. Supreme Court judges elect a president. The world moves randomly and impulsively, and the ability to recognize good and bad and respond quickly and with some fluidity will be crucial to our next generation of leaders.

Serendipity doesn't mean bumping around blindly and accepting what comes. The Goddess doesn't happen to people in a vacuum.

She trains her disciples to be astute enough to take advantage of good things when they unexpectedly appear; to be smart enough to see things changing and to adapt; to be wise enough to see patterns and apply hard-gained knowledge to them; to be creative and not bound by a fixed way of thinking; to be quick and decisive; to make mistakes and learn from them; to be bold.

The Goddess of Serendipity has brought me great pleasure over the years. I'm grateful that I seem to be wired, emotionally, and intellectually, to take advantage of her gifts.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Joyce Marcel is a journalist and columnist based in Vermont. A collection of her columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through And write her at

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