I have, as I may have mentioned a few times, been reading Scott Alexander's novel Unsong.
Today I read a bit before dinner and a bit after. When I stopped for dinner, I had just read a reference to the palindrome "A man, a plan, a canal -- Panama," which served as the point of departure for my after-reading train of thought.
I thought of an old friend who had, ages ago, been my partner in crime in coming up with ridiculous anagrams and palindromes and such. One of our running jokes had been to take famous palindromes and deliberately ruin them -- for example, changing "Able was I ere I saw Elba" to "Oolretaw was I ere I saw Waterloo." You sort of had to be there. So I thought, hey, you could replace Panama with Suez and get, oh, I don't know, "Zeus, Lana, candy, a Haydn, a canal -- Suez!" No, not dumb enough. Or too dumb. Anyway, not as funny as Oolretaw.
And that reminded me of a story I had heard as a kid -- supposedly about a friend of a friend but probably just made-up -- about a guy who had named his dog Suez because Zeus is a god and dog
And that made me think of an anecdote from Whitley Strieber's book The Afterlife Revolution.
I was in meditation one afternoon [in 2012] when I saw in my mind's eye a dog I had known in my youth. He was called Quagmire . . . I had not thought of this dog at all since I was a teenager.
When I told Anne about it, she said, "Dog-God. You just had a visit from God."
God? Was she kidding? God was a distant, immeasurable, and awe-inspiring presence. I said, "I'd need some sort of sign if I was going to believe that."
Half an hour later we left on our afternoon walk. And there, parked at the curb in front of our house was a car with the vanity plate QGMIRE. Quagmire. A coincidence, but also too much of one. She said something along the lines of, "He's ready to be your dog even though it's his universe. So lighten up and let it happen." . . .
In our many future conversations about the sacred, Anne always referred not to god but to dog. "Dog's going to be disappointed, Whitley, if you do such and such." Or, "Ask Dog. Dog will help you."
Dog did, and does. Dog's here and he's not going anywhere. But then again, how can he? He's everywhere.
(Incidentally, when Strieber was a boy, he had a dog named Candy -- one of the words in my lame-ass ad-hoc Suez palindrome.)
So that's where my train of associations had taken me -- from a Panama Canal palindrome to praying to "Dog" for help.
Little did I know that Alexander, having presumably taken an entirely different train, would meet me at the station. I picked up Unsong again after dinner and read on. One of the characters, having gotten into a tight spot while sailing through the Panama Canal, finds that (for a very silly reason that need not detain us here) she needs to pray to God backwards as "Dog."
"Okay, Dog," she said. "I haven't always believed in you. I mean, I've always believed in dogs, but . . . no, this is stupid. Listen, if I let you have this piece of meat, will you save me and my friends?"
And an actual dog suddenly appears on her ship, and she and her friends are saved. Never mind the details. "Ask Dog. Dog will help you." Dog did, and does.
How surprising is it that Alexander and I both independently connected "A man, a plan, . . ." with praying to God as "Dog" for help? After all, a palindrome does naturally make one think of words that become other words when reversed, and god/dog is surely one of the best known such pairs. (Did you hear about the agnostic dyslexic insomniac?) Still, for us both to arrive at someone actually praying to Dog -- a coincidence, as Strieber says, but also too much of one.
Note added: In a comment, Bruce Charlton corrects my coincidence to God-incidence. Well, these things are translingual -- Socrates himself used to swear "by the dog" (a very Sirius oath indeed!) -- and coin means "dogs" in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic, so replacing that element with God is singularly appropriate.
God-incidence reflects Bruce's position that synchronicities are the work of God. Regular readers will know that I prefer to attribute them to fairies -- or, as the Irish would say, sídhe.
I mentioned that in Unsong, when Ana prays to "Dog," an actual dog appears on her ship. It is described thus:
It reminded her of those black dogs that ye olde English had viewed as signs of death, the ones that would appear on windswept moors. It looked at her. Its eyes seemed too deep, too intelligent.
The reason the dog seems so uncanny is, of course, that it is actually God. The description suggests, despite the reference to "ye olde English," the faery hounds of Celtic folklore.
This is not a coinsídhence, because nothing is ever a coinsídhence.