Saturday, 31 March 2007


A friend of mine once told me that her life had been all the things that happened to her while she was in pursuit of goals she never managed to attain. This was a woman in her seventies who'd had a very rich and happy life, but perhaps because I was in my twenties at the time, I thought there was something a little sad about such an assertion. Now that I am older, I am amazed at how my own life has turned out much the same. Not only has my life taken turns I never imagined it would take, but a lot of the major events of my life have had a lot to do with serendipity.

One of those events was meeting my husband. Two years before I met Peter, I went on an interview in New York for a job teaching English at a school in Northern Japan. The woman who interviewed me was a Japanese American. Throughout our meeting, I kept wondering who she reminded me of, and thirty minutes later, as we were concluding, I suddenly realized who it was.

"You know, you look exactly like a man I once studied Japanese with in Tokyo," I blurted out. "And he was Japanese American too."

"What was his name? My brother studied Japanese in Tokyo."

"Colin Wakabayashi."

Her jaw dropped. Colin Wakabayhashi was her brother.

I got the job, and Caroline assured me that it was not because I'd studied Japanese with her brother. Caroline and I eventually became friends and worked together for the better part of two years in Northern Japan. I took the job to return to Japan, in the expectation that a man I had been involved with for several years would join me there. This was sadly not meant to be; he ended up breaking up with me after keeping me on hold for a year. I was miserable and heartbroken, and not long after our break up, I decided to move down to Tokyo in order to find a better job.

In Tokyo, I went on at least a dozen job interviews, and had my heart set on two university teaching posts which I never got. On a whim, I answered an ad for a job at the British Council's school in Tokyo, and to my amazement, they gave me an interview. I suspected (with very good reason, it turned out) that the head teacher at my former post would not give me a good recommendation, however, and had little hope of being offered a job. So when they called and informed me that I could start teaching in April, I was overwhelmed.

I was even more amazed a few days later when Caroline told me what had happened. On the day that my interviewer at the British Council called my former school, Caroline, who had left the school shortly after I did, happened to have dropped by for five minutes. While the secretary was out of the office, the telephone rang. Caroline answered the call and it was my soon-to-be boss at the British Council, wanting to know if I was a decent teacher worth the trouble of hiring. Caroline wasn't employed there anymore, but she assured him I was hard-working and conscientious, that I had left our former school of my own volition, in order to find a better teaching post. She was considerate enough not to mention the fact that I was tired of twelve-hour schedules and not a great fan of our former head teacher -- or that she was no longer an employee of the school.

"I'm surprised they even gave you an interview, though," Caroline said. "A friend of mine told me they aren't all that keen on hiring Americans. They're not prejudiced or anything, but the students expect British teachers at the British Council."

One thing is for certain: if she had not dropped by and picked the phone up, I would never have gotten the job and I would never have met my husband.

Shortly after I started working at the British Council, they changed their policy and stopped hiring Americans.


Brian said...

Not finished yet or a glitch ? I shall find out before I comment further . But it's interesting ! Usual good command of dialogue shows out .

I confess that my life has been entirely serendipitous since a Latin Class in second year high school . I will tell you the tales someday-- but not in your blog ! said...

Sorry, Brian, that was both a glitch and an unfinished entry! Believe it or not, my cat entered the room just before I was finished proofing this last night, and brought with her a traumatized by still very much alive vole. I had a merry time of it trying to encourage the thing to come out from under the computer table. I'm paranoid about one of my cat's unfinished rodents gnawing through an electric cable in its dying throes.

Also, because our computer kept blacking out on us unexpectedly, I developed the habit of saving work and then going back and proofing it later, reasoning that it was better to have unfinished work out there than to lose it all in one cyber-poof. The computer problem has now been resolved by the purchase of a 'new' -- new to us, that is -- computer, but I still have the habit of writing as fast as possible, then going back and editing later. But I got caught this time, and thank you very much for spotting that and pointing it out!

Eryl Shields said...

Serendipity, that's such a good word. It sounds so much better than contingency, happenstance or obstacle.

I nearly left you the most enormous comment thinking about my own recent, major, serendipitous event. I'll mull it over a bit more and maybe blog it at a later date.

Very intrigued by the second part of Brian's comment!

Mary Witzl said...

I wish that Brian had told his tale of serendipity, and that you had told yours too. I love these -- especially when the end result is something good or interesting -- and never tire of hearing or reading about them.

By the way, Brian, this is Eryl Shields, Eryl, this is Brian Fone. I'm not quite sure of the etiquette here, but consider yourselves unofficially introduced. Brian and I met on the Great Writing site, Eryl, where we both submit work.

Mary Witzl said...

I've just gone and posted a comment with my blogger display name, Mary Witzl, instead of my actual name, Mary Whitsell, quite accidentally. That is the first time this system has allowed me to do this! The reason it worked must be because I wasn't trying to do it at the time.

Let's see if I can do it again . . .

Mary Witzl said...


Now why wouldn't it let me do that before?

By the way, Eryl, let me know your URL and I can add your name to my list of blogs!

Eryl Shields said...

My url is, I think,

My tale doesn't begin anywhere near as glamorously as Brian's Latin Class, but with an ingrowing toenail. It hasn't quite ended yet but involves a philosophy degree - soon to be completed - and an invitation to apply to do an MLitt in creative writing. It has, so far, taken in all sorts of interesting turns, some initially seen as obstacles, some painful, some thoroughly enlightening. Who knows where it will end, but it has been an interesting journey so far. I've even, after living in this town for over ten years, made a friend.

I love hearing, reading or watching such stories too. I watched the film The Station Agent last night for the first time in ages: I cried as I smiled at the end of it.

Mary Witzl said...

Only ten years in Dumfries and you've already made a friend? I am so envious! Another four years and I may just make one myself -- stranger things have happened.

One of my favorite lines is from the book 'Doctor Sleep,' about an American hypnotist who lives in London. One of his patients is a lonely American woman who hasn't managed to make friends yet as she has only been in London for ten years.

In America, friendships may be very superficial, but they are definitely quicker to establish than they are in the U.K. The trick in America is NOT making friends.

Now I am curious about your ingrown toenail and how that led to a philosophy degree!

Eryl Shields said...

Ahh... the great British reserve, there's nothing more debilitating. My theory is that we're all trying too hard to look cool and nonchalant fuelled by some misguided hope that it might attract people to us.

My experience of Americans, limited though it is, is that they have a propensity for generosity and enthusiasm that the Brits definitely lack.

I'll tell the ingrown toenail to philosophy degree story one day soon. Now I really must wean myself off this blog habit and get back to my dissertation or there will be no degree after all.

Kim Ayres said...

I think where you're getting mixed up with your display name is when you're commenting there are a couple of options.

Look at the bit that says "Choose an Identity".

If you use your blogger ID, then you have to sign in with your email address and password. It will then show the display name you set up in your blogger profile and will link to your profile.

If you choose "Other" then you can put in whatever name you want and a link to your webpage.

Hope that helps.

Mary Witzl said...

It does help, Kim. I knew there was a logical explanation!

But what an idiot I am, really. They say that insanity is repeating the same action and expecting a different result each time. Worrying, really.

Carolie said...

Lovely and fascinating! What a great story, Mary!

Mary Witzl said...

I wrote all of this silliness back when I was still learning what a blog was all about, Carolie. Every time anyone commented at all, I was amazed. I never finished this post because I ended up chasing a vole around the room, and this was back when our computer was blacking out quite suddenly, too.

Now, I've got even better excuses: the kids.