real life

How $1 sparked the most remarkable, real-life love story we've ever heard.

Paul and Esther Grachan share a marriage and a love story bound by pure coincidence.

If it sounds clinical, or a little unromantic, hold tight. Because the coincidence that binds these two is simply beautiful.

In one of This American Life‘s episodes, No Coincidence, No Story! the team at WBEZ Chicago delve into some of the great human coincidences of our time.

There are, of course, the small ones. Sitting next to someone on the train on the way to work, only to find yourself sitting next to them again that same day, on the way home. (Disclaimer: that one’s mine, only from a few weeks back.)

Or there are the bigger ones; the ones that make you question the powers above and their ability to give a defiant middle finger to the idea of chance and the concept of probability.

The story of Paul and Esther Grechan falls into the latter category.

Some 20 years ago, Paul and Esther were both living and working in Chicago. They had been on a handful of dates, perhaps seven or eight, and Paul was thinking of asking her to become exclusive.

One day, as he left work for lunch and went to the local deli to buy a sandwich, he pulled some change out of his pocket to pay.

“I handed a dollar bill to the clerk and then looked at it and pulled it back straight away,” he told stand-in host Sarah Koenig.

Jessie Stephens and Monique Bowley explain why you absolutely must listen to No Coincidence, No Story! Post continues after audio.

Coincidentally, that one dollar bill had the name ‘Esther’ scrawled across it. So he put in his pocket, bought a frame, and the next time he saw her and asked if she would date him “exclusively”, he handed her the note.

“I start unwrapping it, and he is like, it’s a dollar with your name on it! And he is beside himself. I look at him and am totally freaked out,” Esther recalls to the podcast.

For Paul, he distinctly remembers a “furrowed brow” and a look of concern. Is there a problem, he asked?

“I was speechless, for the first time ever. But I said, you know, remind me to tell you something later,” Esther replied.

Remarkably, they dropped the conversation. They got engaged, married and a couple of years later while unpacking a new apartment, they stumbled upon that frame. Naturally, Paul asked her about why she was so shocked that day.

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Esther explained. When she was 18, and working as a cashier as a coffee shop in downtown Chicago. she was dating someone but wasn't happy with him. She put her name on a dollar bill, and thought to herself, the guy that gets this dollar bill will be the guy that asks me to marry him. She wrote her name on 10 or so.

"I believe it's the same dollar bill I wrote my name on, and I told him I knew the minute he gave me that dollar bill, we were going to get married. He couldn't believe that had happened and I didn't tell him."

And it's salient point: How could she hold onto such a remarkable tale for so many years?

It was simple. She didn't want to freak him out and talk about marriage too early. So, she left it.

Now, they've been married for 18 years and the couple say that frame sits on their dresser, a profound reminder they are bound by something a little more powerful than love: Fate.

No Coincidence, No Story, is brimming with coincidences as unbelievable as Paul and Esther's. It's from This American Life, and it's definitely worth a listen.