Bizarre coincidences are not so bizarre when it comes to storytelling

This past weekend, one of my stories was rerun on The Moth Radio Hour.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have eight stories appear on their show, and after every one, I am flooded by emails, tweets, and Facebook messages from listeners expressing words of appreciation.

Storytelling audiences are the best.

The story featured this week was about my father, my stepfather, and my time spent growing up in Blackstone, Massachusetts.

Yesterday, I exchanged emails with a listener who had an odd connection to me.

Like me, the listener grew up in Blackstone, MA, and was a friend of my late Uncle Harold. The two graduated together from the “old high school” on Main Street in 1967. That high school eventually became my middle school, and today it’s the site of the public library, where my high school friend now works.

Back in 1967, Blackstone was a tiny town where everyone was seemingly related, and she knew “everyone who lived on Federal Street,” which is where I grew up, too.

Later in life, the listener became the assistant manager of a group home in North Smithfield, Rhode Island. Her manager was my former step father, whom she and most of the staff reportedly (and rightfully) despised.

In addition to working for my former step father, she also went to elementary school with him at St. Charles Elementary School in the neighboring town of Woonsocket, Rhode Island.

My step father’s father was actually her family doctor when she was a small child.

Did you follow all that?

I told a story about growing up in Blackstone, Massachusetts with my father and then my step father.

Then a woman living on the other side of the country heard that story on the radio and just happened to know my step father (as both a child and adult), his father, my uncle, and everyone else living on the street where my father and I grew up, including, presumably, my father.

“Small world,” she wrote to me.

“No kidding!” I thought.

But this is not uncommon. When you tell stories to hundreds and sometimes thousands of people at a time, remarkable connections and ridiculous coincidences are uncovered.

I once told a story to a group of healthcare administrators about nearly dying in a snowstorm while driving my mother’s Datsun B210 on December 23, 1989. When I returned to my seat, one of the administrators sitting at my table (the organization’s President) told me (in stunned disbelief) that he was also in a serious car accident during that very same storm while also driving a Datsun.

I once told a story at a Moth GrandSLAM in Brooklyn about an encounter with my elementary school principal when I was in third grade. Someone in the audience knew my former principal (who I had assumed was dead) and reconnected us. We’ve since exchanged many emails. It turns out that a new middle school was built on Federal Street, about half a mile from my childhood home, and it was named after him. Miraculously, he remembered me, my siblings, and also my father and his siblings.

These are just two of many bizarre coincidences and connections that I have experienced after telling a story. Happily,. the world is far more connected than we could ever have imagined. We just don’t see those connections unless we happen to be a storyteller with large audiences of generous listeners who are willing to reach out and make that connection clear.

As I said, storytelling audiences are the best.