By James Timothy Allen

Have you ever heard of synchronicity? This term coined by Carl Jung could be defined as a meaningful coincidence. When it occurs to you, it is often startling and leaves you feeling that the universe has given you a jolt of static electricity.

A few years back, Sylvia (my wife, whose artist name is Weichi Cheng) and I went to an aquarium in Taiwan and watched a giant shark the size of a whale swim slowly and smoothly around, as precisely as the second hand on my watch. She wanted to paint it but didn’t know how to express it as one of nature’s beautiful, amazing creatures. Finally, she painted a picture of the whale shark swimming with a giant hibiscus. They made a circle around each other.  When I saw it, I was so impressed that I told her she should paint a series of them. So she painted a series of whale shark paintings with different kinds of flowers.

Photo by Mark Semet.

On Sept. 22, we went to the UNplaza Art Fair and set up our tent to display our paintings.  Preparing for it took a lot of work and we had been tempted several times just to give up and forget about it.  Too much work for a few paintings!  But we patiently kept to our plan and manned our tent-store both Saturday and Sunday.  Sunday was a fairly slow day, but we persisted in keeping it open until 5 pm, closing time.  Finally, it was about ten minutes to 5 and I saw the vendors around us taking their things down.

I had just started to take down paintings when an excited lady came in at the last minute.  Her hair was frazzled but her eyes were wide as if she had seen a ghost.  She was looking at the painting and screamed, “That’s a whale shark!” Sylvia stopped putting things up and said, “Wow, you are the first person who actually knew what it was; most people think it’s a whale.”  But then it got more interesting!

She knew a lot about whale sharks.  She told us they are sharks, not whales.  Although they are sharks, they are very gentle and no threat to humans.  Although whales are the world’s biggest mammals, whale sharks are the world’s biggest fish. They eat tons and tons of plankton and krill to grow to such a huge size; they are about like a jumbo jet swimming slowly but steadily through the ocean.

There is a small island near Cancun, Mexico, where the whale sharks pause along their migratory routes. Very few people know about it, but it has turned into a niche tourist site for those who love the giant ocean creatures. The whale sharks are quite harmless and will come to the surface so that tourists can swim with them. The woman told me that people used to even take rides on their backs. However, now, even touching one is prohibited since the oils from our fingertips could be harmful to the shark’s skin.

Sadly, a short time ago, the woman’s husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness. His last wish before he would die was to go to the island and swim with the whale sharks. So they called their daughter and made reservations to go. Swimming with the whale sharks was such an amazing experience for the woman that it made her cry. After swimming with the shark, her husband died about 20 hours later. He had fulfilled his last wish. The woman showed us the pictures and a video of her snorkeling in the water above a gigantic fish just like the one in Sylvia’s painting.

Amazingly, the woman told us that she had come to the art fair looking for a picture of a whale shark. Just before she came to our tent, as she was walking around, she had been wishing that she could find a picture of a whale shark. That is why when she saw our booth she screamed.

What are the chances of walking through an art fair and seeing a painting of a whale shark? Probably nearly zero. As she told us the story, I felt that jolt of static electricity. Synchronicity no longer seemed like a dry theory for a philosophical debate, but a meaningful, lived experience. What force had inspired Sylvia to paint a whale shark? And caused me to suggest that she paint a series of them? And then led that woman to walk past our booth looking for one?

—James Timothy Allen, of the KC MO area, says he would be glad to talk with people about how “paintings connect us in such an amazingly touching way.” If you wish to contact him, call the PeaceWorks office, 816-561-1181, and leave your contact info.