This Morning’s Fire

Synchronicity – A phenomenon where an event in the outside world coincides meaningfully with a psychological state of mind.

I awoke this morning to a loud fire alarm, coming from a new apartment complex nearby still under construction. I wasn’t surprised; this alarm had gone off dozens of times over the past two months, sometimes two or three times in a day.

As usual, I went about my morning trying to ignore it. But after twenty minutes — two months and twenty minutes — I snapped. I’d had enough and was finally going to put a stop to this.

I walked over to the construction site of the nearly-complete buildings and spent five minutes searching for someone to complain to. At 6:45 am there were apparently few people, if any, on site. But eventually I saw a man emerge from an underground parking deck and moved to corner him.

Many times I had rehearsed all the things I would say to these inconsiderate people: What’s going on? What’s with these blasted fire alarms always going off? It has to stop. The neighbors and I aren’t going to put up with this anymore. And so on. Now came my chance.

“What’s with the fire alarms?” I asked.
“Smoke in the building!” he yelled. “Fire department is on the way!”

An actual fire? I was stunned. None of my simulations of our conversation had panned out like this. But I regained my resolve. I wouldn’t be dismissed so easily.

“Smoke? But those alarms have been going off for months!” I protested.
“Those were just tests,” he yelled before answering his ringing phone. “Get everybody out!” he shouted into it.

I stood there speechless for several seconds, baffled and unsatisfied, wondering what else to say. This wasn’t the resolution I had hoped for. But how many complaints can you lodge against a man whose building is on fire?

I left. And immediately after five fire trucks arrived, followed by three news vans, and the whole block was roped off.

I didn’t stick around to see if the fire was contained or if flames ever began licking out of windows. I try not to waste my time gawking at the sensational. I tried to forget the event and get on with my day. But all afternoon the experience kept surfacing along with word synchronicity.

Synchronicity is a commonly misunderstood concept, often taken to mean any peculiar coincidence, especially a serendipitous one (perhaps you visit a city you’ve never been to and run into a long-lost friend). But that’s not synchronicity, per se.

Nor is synchronicity meant to indicate causality, especially the spooky kind. Perhaps someone in a restaurant drops and shatters a wine glass and then a patron dining across the room suddenly has a heart-attack. That’s not synchronicity either.

The technical denotation of synchronicity is subtly different: the meaningful coinciding of an external event with an internal one.

This morning’s event could be seen as synchronicity. After two months of fire alarms disturbing my tranquility, I decide to put my foot down, to no longer be a victim, to put a stop to this impingement on my quality of life — on just the morning that these fire alarms are clamoring about the outbreak of a real fire.

Synchronicity offers us the fascinating task of uncovering the “meaning” behind coincidence. In the case of this morning’s fire, is there a lesson there for me? When next I set out for justice, burning with righteous indignation, should I stop to consider whether my persecutor’s may themselves be in need?

Of course there may not be any such thing as synchronicity really; skeptics need not make an effort to point that out to me. The meaningful coincidence of an internal and external event is unprovable, as the internal event is observable only by introspection. Nor has science yet demonstrated such a relationship between space, time, and mind.

Still, I suspend my disbelief and see no reason to take a hard-line stance ruling synchronicity out. I like the hint (or hit) of wonderment it offers when fascinating coincidence arises. And at the very least, even if synchronicity is not “actually” real, the concept primes me to engage in a type of reflection and introspection about the relationship of my inner and outer worlds that I might otherwise forego.