After graduation from college I decided to take a year to clear my head and decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life. I took a job teaching at a private school for boys in New York and discovered that I loved teaching — but I wanted to teach at a higher level where, it seemed to me, I would be better challenged. And I also decided to teach philosophy because I loved it and  it would keep my mind alive. The problem is that I had no money. I applied to several graduate schools and was accepted, but I simply didn’t have the money to attend. So, flat feet and all,  I decided to join the Army.

At the time I was working at a boys camp in Maine during the Summers and the plan was to join in the Fall, after camp was over. But an older man who also taught at the private school had asked me to join him and his family at Big Wolf Lake in Upper New York before going off to the Army. I spent a few days with him and his wife and children who surprised me one morning by offering to finance my first year of graduate school! I kid you not. After that I was to be on my own, but at least this would allow me to get my foot in the door. How gracious! How generous! I was stunned! I immediately called the Chairman of the Philosophy Department at Northwestern where I had been accepted and asked if it was too late to join the Fall class. He assured me it was not and welcomed me aboard. The die was cast.

Needless to say, I considered myself the luckiest person on the face of the earth and I packed up my belongings in my used Volkswagen bug and left for parts unknown. “Go West, young man!” After a successful first year I was granted a University Fellowship that paid my way for the rest of my graduate career. But to add to the remarkable events of those years, in my second year I took a course in Plato’s late dialogues and met my wife. She was an undergraduate whose advisor allowed her to enroll in an upper-level philosophy course to fulfill a university requirement. After meeting her and falling in love with her I knew for certain that I was the luckiest man alive. We married soon thereafter and have been together ever since — through thick and thin.

I have often thought about how tiny things that seem at the time to be insignificant turn out to be the most important things in our lives. I might have gone into the Army (can you imagine??) or I might have decided that a trip to Big Wolf was a bit out of my way. After all, my family was in Richmond, Virginia — which was in the other direction. Or my wife might have selected a different course to fulfill that requirement — she was a Latin major and thought she ought to know a bit about Greek philosophy! Go figure. There were courses available to her other than an upper-level philosophy course about an ancient Greek’s obscure thoughts.

Have you ever had such remarkable things seemingly turn your life around? It does make you wonder sometimes. Call it luck or call it serendipity!


12 thoughts on “Serendipity

  1. What a fun post, Hugh! I always enjoy a bit of insight into the lives of my blogging friends, and this is a beautiful story. Yes, sometimes the seemingly smallest decisions can send us down a path that changes our lives forever. I usually call it fate, but I like your word, serendipity, better! Thank you for this really uplifting post!

  2. Hugh, great story. I think is a first hand example of pay-it-forward. Someone saw promise in you and rewarded you tremendously. You have paid it forward with your students and tennis players, teaching your wisdom and curiosity to learn and be the best version of yourself. To me, his money was well spent. Keith

  3. Well, after a bad experience at the University of Maryland, I made the mistake of joining the Marine Corps. I notice that our PE is hiring marine generals left and right. My own experience with them was that they thought it was there job to make sure that everyone subordinate to them feared them more than they did the enemy. I managed to use a family situation and a personal contact to get out of the Corps after 18 months. It was then that I learned of St. John’s!

    • Eisenhower warned against a president who knew not the military. This man seems cowed and they will try to run the show, I dare say. Their sense of rigid obedience obviously appeals to the Trumpet. They can help him bring the rest of us to heel!

  4. “I might have gone into the Army (can you imagine??) ”
    That made me laugh – no, I cannot imagine you walking in soldiers’ shoes, and for sure there was a higher power at work – nudging and guiding you to your rightfull destiny.

    No matter what your choices, you would have mentored many in equally-sensitive ways… and most likely you’d have crossed paths with that lovely scholar of Latin/languages.

  5. Wow, that’s a fascinating story! It’s amazing how a change in a few choices can lead someone to a totally different path. Well pointed out. I guess we need to pay closer attention to what we do and strive towards the things we desire most as much we can.

    But then again, you never can tell what will lead to what and who you’ll meet along the way. Sometimes a stroke of luck can do wonders you’d never imagine!

    Bearing in mind the weight of uncertainty in life, I wrote an article talking about why we need to try new things and how it can benefit our lives. If free & interested, do give it a read here:

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