Nothing by Chance: A Tale of Serendipity from LeWeb 2008

December 13, 2008 in It is what it is - opinion column | Comments (1)


If you’re one of those people who believe nothing happens by chance, then you should keep reading.

On Tuesday afternoon at LeWeb I was scheduled to interview one of my literary heroes, Paulo Coelho. To be more precise it wasn’t going to be an interview so much as a free-form discussion in which we would touch on a series of topics and allow others to join in if they chose.
That discussion didn’t happen. Again in the interest of precision here’s the gist. Paulo and I did sit on the LeWeb stage together, but we didn’t talk. At least I didn’t. Because about 15 minutes before Paulo stepped onto the stage with me I lost my voice.

And when I say “lost”, I mean it was as though nanoscale gremlins had been dispatched to my esophagus where they constructed an impenetrable barricade around my vocal cords – nothing was getting through. And I mean nothing.

I’ll dispense with further description of the session and instead point you to this video to see for yourself.
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Losing one’s voice at a conference isn’t an altogether unusual experience. It’s happened to me before, but generally it transpires after several days of non-stop talking, late night schmoozing, not enough sleep and all that. This time around no such activities preceded the vocal cessation. In fact there was no harbinger whatsoever.

Upon arriving in Paris the Friday night before the conference was to begin, Paulo and I had dinner and spoke at length – mostly about life and life experience, but also about our impending session. Though nervous in advance of our meeting, my butterflies evaporated as we chatted over sushi and sake.

During the weekend, interspersed with perusing Paris in the company of my niece Danielle, I spent time brushing up on various and sundry content bits (including polishing off one of Paulo’s books, The Witch of Portobello, and diving immediately into another, Brida.).

I got lots of rest, managed to pull myself back from the cold from which I’d suffered for several days and I was ready.

And then – WHACK!

Now some might say, “Look Cathy, you had been sick. This was probably nothing more than an uprising of bacterial beasties that had already taken up residence in your body.”

This might be true, but someone posited another theory that, frankly, holds more water with me.
The suggestion first came from Anina, and later another conference-goer reiterated it calling it “The Coelho Effect.” What this means is simple: losing one’s voice taken in a metaphysical sense could represent a loss of words, or in my case, holding back on a conversation that I need to have … and that I’ve been avoiding.

While I was ready for the interview and had quelled my nerves over talking with Paulo on stage, the specter of several very important conversations (family-related) hanging over my head trumped all preparation. And since the nature of at least part of the discussion on stage with Paulo was related to communications and transparency, it made perfect sense that my voice opted out at that moment.

The next logical question, of course, is what could possibly be so all consuming that it would have such impact.

But for several reasons I can’t go there right now.

First off, I think writing about them now would both be passive-aggressive (better to address the issues directly with the relevant parties first). Secondly, I don’t think the situations themselves are all that important. It’s the way in which they are resolved and the lessons that emerge after that will matter. Finally, while some might think “Come on Cathy, just say it. This is your blog, after all. You can talk about your feelings if you want.” But I’m not interested in gratuitous pontificating that doesn’t answer the “so what?” question.

And in reviewing this post right now I ponder whether the above paragraph itself might come across as making an excuse … and perhaps some of you reading this will think that.

But those of you who believe that all things happen for a reason should understand where I’m coming from … and hopefully you’ll check back to hear how things go.

UPDATE: In the days and weeks after this incident, it became even more clear to me that this loss of voice was something even more broad than I’d thought. This wasn’t just about losing my voice. This was about the fact that I had spent my entire career using my voice incorrectly. So many gifts given, so many opportunities presented, and all of them pretty much passed along as I used my voice for things other than what I knew deep down was my true purpose. I guess the Universe got tired of it and in looking back came to see that this was a clear message – don’t use your voice properly, and perhaps you just shouldn’t use it at all.

For most of my life I’d been running at Mach 5, pushing forward into a life that wasn’t altogether a fit for me. My tendency to damn the torpedos and full steam ahead into things was both an asset in some ways and an enormous curse in others. Occasionally when racing ahead damning those torpedoes, my body would stop me … generally in the form of tweaking of lower back or some such – literally things that would halt me in my tracks. This was the first time that I had been halted in a way that really shook my core … taking my voice.

At the time of this story in 2008 I was good at seeing and hearing signs but rather lousy at listening. It wasn’t until some years later – 2010/2011 to be precise – when my ability to step back and see things more clearly came to pass that I became able to see the signs and even heed the warnings.

Better late than never.


One response to “Nothing by Chance: A Tale of Serendipity from LeWeb 2008”

  1. Serendipity says:

    Serendipity always brings a smile to my face.