You're in the middle of of a break up with your girlfriend. It's Friday night, you're out alone feeling strange, sad, reflective, buzzed. Hungry, you contemplate food. There are a million restaurants — good restaurants — within throwing distance. But for some reason you decide to get in your car — not your brightest idea — and drive to some sushi restaurant you've never been to across town. According to a compelling private logic, you persuade yourself that if you find a parking space, that's where you'll go, a sign that it's where you're meant to be. (Alone, we entertain stranger logics than we do culturally.)

Sure enough, you find a spot right in front of the restaurant. You park, turn off the engine, and with a sudden flood of emotion brought on by your good parking fortune, you decide to email your almost-once-beloved right then and there.

A bit more than buzzed, you spend some time, craft your sentences, try to articulate the 1073 things you're feeling at the moment. Finally, you edit as best you can on that stupid little screen and, as you hit send, wonder if that was your wisest move. And then you walk into the restaurant.

You realize you're more loaded than you thought. You start to scan the place for mood and availability. As your eyes move across the room, processing all this new data, you suddenly happen upon a familiar face — a very familiar face. But as it's out of place, it can't actually be there. That would make no sense. You do a double take (I like to imagine all experiences directed by Chuck Jones). But, no, there it is. There she is. On a date.

What the proverbial fuck? Not that she's on a date — power to her — but that you happen to end up here, now, like this.

Maybe it's just a coincidence. You're doing whatever it is you do and she's doing whatever it is she does and if you rolled the dice a trillion times, one of those times you'd end up at the same time in the same place. It doesn't mean anything. Sure, the two events — the two of you going to the same restaurant at the same time and place — have created a powerful, new event. But it's the same as two asteroids colliding in space. A big event doesn't necessitate meaning.

Or maybe it does mean something  — something really, really important. Like you're supposed to be together! What else propelled you through all these elaborate mechanics, all these decisions conspiring to bring you two together!

Now, no events are discrete. The things that happen to us are related to other things that happen to us. The most familiar of these connections is linear cause and effect which makes the connections between events obvious. My friend called me because I'd called him. Or my parents came to visit because they wanted to see their grandson. (If I were walking through the Mission one day and there, at a coffee shop with her AirBook open, was my mother I'd probably drop dead.)

And yet things happen to us all the time that are connected in ways we can't discern. Indeed, all things are connected in some way to all other things, a billion butterfly wings and such. These connections can be more or less resonant, more or less obvious, but they're always there. All events are part of ever fluctuating constellations, at once creating and being created. 

Sometimes, things happen to us that seem discontinuous — there is no discernible cause and effect — and yet are so intimately related we feel there must be some connection. Or at least a connection we should know. I mean when someone rolls a ball down the street towards me, it is so obvious how the ball came to me that I don't ask what the connection is. But when something happens like you find your should-be girlfriend in a random restaurant on a date, you find yourself looking around for the cause  — for surely there must be!

In our so-called scientific culture, your first thoughts concern the cause and effect. Did she tell me she was coming here and I forgot? Or vice versa? Is this restaurant close to something that connects it to us?

An obvious, linear, causal connection can't be found. And yet there she is! Here I am! Somehow, despite the 10,000 restaurants in this city, despite all the different times people come to eat, we came to the same restaurant — one neither of us had ever been to! And at the same time! My god, it must mean something! 

The uninteresting answer is that it is the work of some master plan, some divine providence, some inscrutable knowing that exists above these two events, connecting them in ways your eyes and human intelligence cannot possibly know. This is what we do when we can't explain things empirically: If I can't see it, it can't be! And so we look over the head of the event and appeal to some "higher" source.

And we are left with a thoroughly unsatisfying, and I dare say false, dichotomy.  On the one hand, god and a meaning that is exterior to the events, a sure meaning that guides — a soul to the body that is experience. On the other hand, we have "pure" chance and meaninglessness — shit happens, no big deal.

But it seems to me that both of these options are silly, that there are connections between events that happen in all sorts of ways beyond cause and effect and that these connections are not part of some divine plan. While we tend to focus on things that move linearly — our life trajectory, career, stories, movies, our laws of physics —the fact is things connect laterally, diagonally, and discontiguously, that is, skipping time and place to forge a connection. Indeed, some events skip across the surface of time, like a comet coming into view now and again. There are forces that exceed us such as, say, gravity. But there are all sorts of forces as we are not actors on the stage of the earth but constitutive and constituent of this cosmos.

And the cosmos is neither meaningful nor meaningless.  The cosmos happens. And this very happening is meaning. Which is to say, meaning is not to be found outside of what happens. Nor is meaning to be evaded. Meaning is something that happens, not something that is.

Back to your incident in the restaurant. It is neither just a coincidence — which says nothing — nor the act of a divine order. It is meaningful precisely in that it happened. What connects your being there and her being there is that you're both there!There is no secret stitching these two disparate events together. The fact of these two disparate events happening at the same time is the meaning!

The meaning is in the event. You can both feel it.  Meaning is ricocheting all over your mind, belly, loins, flying around the restaurant, summoning your old selves, your future selves, your possible selves. This event is a nexus of meanings — that is, the meaning is plural. 

Like all events, meaning is multiple made up of millions of threads — all your moods and desires and experiences as well as the moods, desires, and forces of the cosmos. A coincidence is not a premeditated conspiracy; it is an emergent conspiracy. The fact that you happened into that restaurant at that time and place means something. But that something is multiple. 

Synchronicity is significant. It is an intersection of forces, of flows. Such is the universe: flows of affect, debris, rocks, sensations, light often all mixed up and moving faster than light, the speed of thought, infinitely swift. Events and things collide, sometimes poignantly. This makes such synchronous events something to reckon — not that there's some secret meaning but precisely because it happened. You may want it to signify one thing but no one gets off that easy. Like all reckoning, it is multiple and uncertain.


ayşegül said...

When somebody asks me if I believe in coincidences I say yes just for the reason you are describing in length here. But what I actually try to do (if I am in a good mood) is to change the meaning of the word coincidence in their mind which is pretty empty in itself. In co-incidence, meaning happens if you allow it to happen. Of course it is not part of a bigger plan but it surely is a sign for people who are open to signs, who are open to new meanings for things happening. It all depends on your being open to another way of understanding or feeling things.

I don't understand how people could be satisfied with what they think they see anyway. There are always other ways of thinking, feeling, loving, being, doing, etc. Maybe synchronicity is realized by those who are not satisfied with generalities. It has nothing to do with being spiritual or whatever. To see the moment of creation of meaning is to desire new meanings. Some just don't. Weird.

Daniel Coffeen said...

It is weird. But I do believe people do, privately, entertain much stranger beliefs than they will admit publicly — and perhaps stranger than they even know. The problem is that they don't follow their own private logics; they don't lean into synchronicity, into affect, but avoid it or misread it when it happens.