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Jim? Jim Cook is that you?

We were on vacation, a little under 4,000 miles from home. Hearing my name called out on a distant shore was a bit unnerving.

We spent the day on the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, shopping and eating lunch on a terrace overlooking the ocean. After the meal we explored several beaches. The first one was Laniakea Bay, known to many as Turtle Bay. In this stretch of sand and surf, turtles can swim and sun without being molested. Volunteers, known as Honu Guardians keep watch over the bay, insuring that the public did not encroach on the turtles and cause them stress. Gazing at the incoming breakers, we thought we saw shadows gliding though the water. Turtles or rocks? Nothing surfaced and we left a little let down.

We stopped at Waimea Bay, Pipeline Beach, and Sunset Beach, the trifecta of world class surfing beaches. As the afternoon waned we decided to head back to our hotel. Revisiting the beaches in reverse order we wound up entering the start of Laniakea Bay.

The front passenger tire made a strange noise. We pulled to the shoulder to inspect it. To our disappointment the tire was flat. AAA was called and the waiting began.

Since we were at Turtle Bay, my wife decided to go back to the beach. She returned shortly with the report that there was, in fact, a large sea turtle on the beach. In front of the turtle was the animal’s name, Scallop, and a brief description of the possible injury it had sustained.

The sun was starting to set. I decided to see the turtle before it got too dark. I limped barefoot down the rocks to the sand. The turtle lay motionless on the beach as waves caressed its shell. There was yellow rope restricting people from getting too close. A Honu Guardian volunteer was describing the different aspects of this turtle’s condition. He turned towards me and asked, Jim? Jim Cook?

“Stromqberg?” I blurted out. Surprised I found myself looking into the face of a neighbor of mine from Minnesota. I realized in my shock that I had mispronounced his name. His last name was Stromquist. Close but no ludefisk. Steve’s family and ours had attended the same church, the same school, and for a brief time, one of our kids had dated one of his kids.

Steve worked for a post office in Minnesota. A job opportunity became available in Hawaii and he took it. He had been on the island for about 6 months. In his time off at the post office, he trained to become a Honu Guardian volunteer and was on the job when I encountered him.

We swapped stories and updated histories. The sun set, and the tire was repaired, so we said our goodbyes. Continuing our journey back to the hotel, there was increased sense of awe in us all.

What are the odds?

I am not a scientist so I can’t explain the laws of probability. I want to say what happened was impossible. I am reminded of the words said by the spaceship computer in “Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy”. When someone used the word “impossible”, the computer would correct them. “Not impossible, just highly improbable.”

In the days following I have tried to divine the meaning of this mysterious meeting, to no avail. It makes no rational sense, all the disparate elements that conspired to put us together on that beach. If we had not had a flat, we would have passed within 100 yards of Steve and never known that someone we knew was very close.

Mystery is all around us, and is not dependent on our awareness. I struggle to find meaning in this event. This is evidence that there is more wonder in the universe than we could ever understand.

So I say to the universe, “I must know the meaning of this encounter!” And the universe replies, “Get used to disappointment.”