Salman Rushdie’s novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet provides this wonderful perspective on the randomness of human relationships, and of life in general:
Our lives disconnect and reconnect, we move on, and later we may again touch one another, again bounce away. This is the felt shape of a human life, neither simply linear nor wholly disjunctive [detached] nor endlessly bifurcating [forking into two paths], but rather this bouncey-castle sequence of bumpings-into and tumblings-apart.
Life’s encounters, Rushdie suggests, are completely random. You might be able to choose which bouncey-castle you enter — or even whether you enter at all — but once inside, you can’t control exactly where the motions will take you. You certainly won’t travel in a straight line, or bounce around in isolation, or move either up or down, left or right, according to your choice. Instead, you’ll careen around the place, crashing into some people while never quite reaching others. You’ll be hit from behind — unexpectedly knocked off course — by some encounters, while others will bounce right into your arms when you least expect it. Even if you do control your trajectory for a while, you never know what the ground beneath you is doing — how it is rippling and rolling in response to the leaps and bounds of the other people cartwheeling around in there with you. What seems like stable footing might suddenly shift under your feet, throw you left when you wanted right, tumble you head over heels who knows where. No matter how you set your course, you never know exactly where your bounces will take you, and you never know who or what is heading your way.
What I like about this concept is that it encourages each of us to make the most of — to “jump on” — those bumpings-into that truly intrigue and attract us while we can. At the exact moment when we cross paths or bounce in parallel with a like-minded soul, we have the ability, the opportunity, to reach out and hold on, to travel together for a while, wrapped in each other’s arms, until momentum pulls us apart. These moments of shared travel may not last long, but we can live them fully while they’re there, until we tumble away into something new.