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What Are the Chances…? Historic OMGs

By Lydia Hope Wilen / New York City

Adams and Jefferson - The Cold Shoulder
Adams and Jefferson - The Cold Shoulder

Former Presidents, Final Residence

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson had a herky-jerky relationship. They went from allies to adversaries and back again. They were friends. They were enemies. They were frenemies. Get the picture? To prevent this from becoming a history lesson, we’ll touch on the salient points leading up to and including your chance of getting gobsmacked by the punchline.

In 1775, Adams and Jefferson met as delegates to the Continental Congress and became close friends. A year later, Adams selected Jefferson to draft the Declaration of Independence. Hey, what are friends for?

In the 1780s, both served diplomatic missions in Europe. During that time, Jefferson’s wife died and John and Abigail Adams consoled him, and made him feel like family. But you know what can happen in families.

When they returned to the U.S., Jefferson who was Washington’s secretary of state, was drawn to the new Republican Party. Adams, Washington’s vice president, aligned himself with the Federalist Party. Skipping a lot of letter writing filled with nasty accusations by Adams about Jefferson, brings us to 1796, when Washington stepped down as president. Jefferson came out of seclusion and ran for president against Adams. Adams won. It was a narrow victory.

Jefferson and Adams ran against one another again in 1800. Up until our 2016 and 2020 elections, theirs held the record for the nastiest, dirtiest, sleaziest campaigning and election in American politics. How nasty was it? On Jefferson’s Inauguration Day, Adams skipped the ceremony and left D.C. to join Abigail in Massachusetts. The two former friends did not speak to each other for the following 12 years.

A signer of the Declaration of Independence and a mutual friend of Adams and Jefferson, Benjamin Rush, the rascal, wrote to each of them, saying the other was interested in resurrecting their friendship. It worked…eventually, three years later. On January 1st, 1812, Adams sent a short note to Jefferson and for the next 14 years, which included 158 letters, they were pen pals. In one letter, Adams wrote, “You and I ought not to die before we have explained ourselves to each other.”

Even after the passing of Adams’ beloved Abigail in 1818, the ailing 83-year-old Adams kept up the correspondence. In 1823, Jefferson, the younger of the two, who was then 80, wrote, “Crippled wrists and fingers make writing slow and laborious, but while writing to you, I lose the sense of these things, in the recollection of ancient times, when youth and health made happiness out of every thing.”

The evening of the 3rd of the month in 1826, Jefferson fell into a coma and died after noon on the following day. It was at that time that Adams collapsed in his reading chair. He gained consciousness a couple of hours later and uttered his last words. No historians know for sure what those last words were, but it definitely included the name Thomas Jefferson.

Adams was in Quincy, Mass and Jefferson in Monticello, Va.

Two friends passed away on the very same day

What Are the Chances for them to die on Independence Day, the 4th of July?

Oh my!

Author Mark Twain
Author Mark Twain


Samuel Langhorne Clemens was known by his pen name Mark Twain. He was born in 1835, the same year that Halley’s Comet appeared for the first time in recorded history. Twain learned of this and felt so connected to those two 1835 events—his birth and hello Halley’s Comet—that, in 1909, when he was on in years, he is quoted as saying, “The Almighty has said, no doubt, ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.’”

What Are the Chances that Mark Twain would die in April, 1910 and Halley’s Comet would make a second appearance a month later, in May of 1910?

Rocket Scientists: Galileo, Hawking, Einstein (from left to right)

The Giantests of Scientists

Which three scientist giants come to mind? I’ll give you a hint that probably won’t help. The three were extremely important theoretical physicists. Another hint? A theoretical physicist is a scientist who uses mathematics, calculations, chemistry, biology and a series of theories to understand the complex workings of the universe and the interactions between matter and energy.

Ah, now you must know one, two and maybe all three of the scientists to whom I will be referring.

Without modern technology, Galileo (remember him?) reigns supreme. He was born in 1564 and died January 8th, 1642. On the 300th anniversary of his death, January 8th, 1942, Stephen Hawking entered the world. What are the chances that Stephen Hawking, who became a world-renowned theoretical physicist, was born exactly 300 years to the day that Galileo died?

Ah, but it doesn’t stop there. Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein (the scientist we know for his Theory of Relativity) was born on March 14th, 1879. Stephen Hawking died on Albert Einstein’s birthday, March 14th, 2018.

But the most extraordinary “What Are the Chances…?” (as if those weren’t enough) is the fact that Stephen Hawking defied all odds and lived an average lifespan, considering he was diagnosed with ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease) when he was in graduate school at age 21. Talk about statistical improbability, the usual survival time after diagnosis, is two to five years… sometimes five years or even ten years. Stephen Hawking survived for an additional five-plus decades.

During his 55 years of life with progressively debilitating ALS, he found ways to work, gifting the scientific world with major contributions to the understanding of gravity, black holes and cosmology.

No walking. No talking. That didn’t stop Stephen Hawking!


After reading the author’s “What Are the Chances…?” series, Insider reader Kia Portafekas kept thinking of how there are times that you just can’t listen to yourself…times when things will change for the better once you take the road you swore not to go down. Here, Kia shares her perfect example.


Sanchi, Kia’s beloved calico
Sanchi, Kia’s beloved calico

By Kia Portafekas / Vista, California

After having my favorite breed of cat, a calico, for 19 years in the Bronx, my mom and I said, “NO MORE!” Reason: When the cat is ready to make a transition and pass on, it’s so very emotionally intense.

And so we were catless when we moved to Arizona. One day, I was doing a signing at Barnes & Noble with my book: Making Music With Your Child. It was on a Saturday, the day I would watch Pets on Parade, a TV show that had educational talks, animal adventure stories and pet adoptions.

After the book signing, I raced home to catch as much as I could of Pets on Parade. When we arrived home, I immediately put on the TV and there was Jill, a calico cat. My mom and I looked at each other and both of us said an adamant “NO!”

Within 30 minutes, we were driving more than an hour to the Arizona Humane Society. When we got there, we had to place our names in a lottery bin, since there were so many people there who wanted to adopt pets. This was ridiculous. I said to my mom, “Let’s leave. There are too many people. What chance do we have?” My mother said, “Let’s just wait and see what happens.”

When it was time for the lucky lottery winner to be called for adopting Jill, a woman asked, “Is Kia here to adopt Jill?” My name had been chosen! I raised my hand and told the woman, “I’m Kia and I’d like to meet Jill before we decide to adopt her.” I never won a lottery of any kind before, so while walking over to the cat’s cage, I asked the woman how many lottery tickets were in the bin for Jill. Her answer was a surprise, “Only you.” She was there waiting for only me and my mom. It was love at first sight.

We renamed her Sanchi, a name that came to me in a dream. I was told by my friend Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk, that Sanchi is a high holy stupa in India. Nineteen years later, Sanchi has been a blessing in our lives. What were the chances that we’d see her on TV, ignore our “no calico” policy, drive a long way to get to her and then to have her there waiting for us with no other takers? She was meant to be ours.

Miracles come into our lives all the time, as long as our hearts welcome them, making anything and everything possible.


Photo Credit: Eric Stephen Jacobs
Photo Credit: Eric Stephen Jacobs

Lydia Hope Wilen had a successful collaboration with her late sister Joany as nonfiction bestselling authors (18 books), journalists, TV personalities, writers and talent coordinators on a Nickelodeon series hosted by Leonard Nimoy, Reading Rainbow episodes, skit writers for Dr. Ruth's TV show, Diet America Challenge on CBS, and writers of screenplays (optioned but not produced yet).

Lydia is writing on her own now and has just completed an extraordinary book for young people and their parents. It will have them laughing and learning...once she gets an agent and it gets published.




With your undeniable gift for story telling and for hooking a reader right from the start, you have created a series of charming, smart and addicting essays. We look forward to more! Ellen & Fred



Wonderful reading. fyi supposedly Adams whispered, 'Thomas Jefferson survives' not knowing Jefferson had passed a few hours earlier. How true is the story, who knows? Maybe it's just 200 year-old misinformation!



I lo the story of the founders,, love always wins!

also love the photo of adorable Sanchi and her adoption by kia and her mom. What a beautiful thing!

19 years is a lots of memories to be had and have. Thank you


ps: i m a mom of 7 years olds and is also intrigued by the title of the book Making Music With Your Child. ….



Having conquered modern day serendipity, Lydia tackles Colonial Era non-fiction with real verve. Instead of a dull history lesson, Lydia makes the noted figures idiosyncratic and identifiable. The events took place long ago, but Lydia's writing is contemporary and irreverent, so that the reader gets a sense of Adams and Jefferson as real people, not names from a classroom lecture. And the other two anecdotes that follow the main story are beautifully crafted as well.

Bob Pardi



Thank you for sharing this beautiful and heartwarming story about Kia and Sanchi and their journey that was definitely meant to be! A lovely reminder of how the Universe works its magic, and to follow our guidance and our hearts. Thank you.......Tamara M.

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