Election Section

Brief Encounters

By Esther Stone
Friday December 21, 2007

It was May Day in Paris, and Mark and I were among the throngs of Parisians promenading throughout the city on this most festive day. We were standing by the Arc de Triomphe when a young man approached us.  

“Would you mind taking our picture?” he asked, indicating a slender young woman at his side. We were happy to oblige, and then asked if he would take our picture as well. (I still have it sitting on my dresser in my bedroom: there we are, the two of us smiling broadly, looking like a couple of middle-aged hippies). 

We then exchanged introductions. They were Peter and Karma, from Cambridge, Mass. This was their first trip to Paris, they told us, and they were overwhelmed by the beauty of the city. Mark and I explained that we had been close friends in college in New York many years before, that we had lost touch with each over for over 25 years, and that, through a mutual friend, we had recently discovered each other’s whereabouts.  

I was now living in California, and Mark in Paris. He had invited me to visit, and we were reveling in our renewed friendship. 

Peter and Karma were intrigued by our story, and before we parted, Peter handed me his card. “If you’re ever in the Boston area,” he said, “let us know.”  




After a thrilling two-week stay in France I returned to my normal life at home. Mark and I continued to write, and the glow of Paris remained for a long, long time.  

Several months later I was invited to a cousin’s wedding on the east coast and decided to add a few days of sightseeing in Boston as well. I recalled Peter’s invitation, and wrote him of my plans. I was pleased to find a message from him when I arrived at my hotel, and when I returned his call, we made a date to have lunch in Cambridge the following day. “How’s Karma?” I asked. “I’ll tell you when I see you,” he replied. 

As I made my way to his apartment, I suddenly realized that it was just down the street from the hospital where my college boyfriend, Don, was now Chief of the Psychiatry Department. I hadn’t seen him in years, but since I was now so close I couldn’t resist the urge to try to contact him. 

Peter greeted me warmly when I arrived, and I had barely crossed his threshold when I told him my story. Not unaware that it was a gross breach of etiquette, I asked if he’d mind if I tried to call Don. He was gracious in replying, “Of course not.”  

My heart raced as I dialed the hospital’s number. I was put through to his line, and then, “Dr. Leonard,” the voice on the other end of the line said. “Hi, Don, it’s Esther.” His response was immediate. “Well, how are you and what are you doing in Boston?” We went through the mechanics of catching up with each other, and then he checked his schedule. He had a half hour free before his next appointment, he said, and we could see each other briefly if I’d like. We would meet as we walked towards each other down Mt. Auburn Street. 

Peter seemed amused at this turn of events, but gave me his blessing. We would have lunch when I got back. 

I headed down the street in a state of high excitement, and Don soon came into view. We both remarked at how little we had changed in appearance. He had always had a sharp mind and a quick wit, and that hadn’t changed either. We kept up a repartee of clever banter as we walked back to the hospital together. He showed me his office, we took pictures of each other, and then it was time for his appointment. I felt good at having seen him again, however briefly, after all that time, as I walked back to Peter’s apartment.  

Once we finally settled down for lunch, Peter told me about Karma. He seemed distressed as he related that she had gone home to Iowa for Christmas, but had called him from there and said she wasn’t coming back to Cambridge. He was stunned because he hadn’t suspected any problems between them. She had offered him no explanation for her decision and he was still bewildered and hurt about her leaving. Although he and I were virtual strangers to each other, he seemed eager to share his feelings with me.  




Ten years passed. Mark and I remained in contact, but I had no further contact with either Peter or Don. However, one day, quite unexpectedly, the story picked up once again.  

I had recently moved to Albany, and had gone to my local bank to make a deposit. When it was my turn to be waited on I casually glanced at the teller’s name plate. It said “Karma.” I looked at her face; she was blonde and slight.  

“Have you ever been to Paris?” I blurted out impulsively. “Yes,” she replied hesitatingly. I did some quick arithmetic. “Was it about ten years ago?” “Yes,” she replied again.  

“Do you remember our meeting at the Arc de Triomphe? I was with my friend Mark and you were with Peter.” She conceded that she did, but I got the feeling that, contrary to my own feeling of excitement at this coincidence, she was feeling uncomfortable about my questioning, and I left shortly.  

I nonetheless looked forward to seeing her again the next time I had banking to do and learning what had happened all those years before. But she never returned to my branch, and I never saw her again. And the mystery remains. 

I have often pondered the strange thread of circumstance that had briefly created connections in our lives over such a wide span of time and place. Was it perhaps karma?