For one day during the summer between first grade and second grade, I played at being a detective. I don’t remember where I got my inspiration, whether it was from watching television with my parents or reading kiddie books like Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown. What I do remember is that I found clues everywhere within the small radius of the neighborhood where I was allowed to roam.
Even at that young age, I was holding two realities simultaneously in my head. In one, I knew I was just pretending that the random scraps I found on the ground had any meaning or connection to one another. The number of pebbles at the end of the driveway, the direction a twig was pointing, the color of a candy wrapper left on the sidewalk — these were the clues that I imagined a detective would find and put together to solve a crime, but I knew that no crime had actually taken place and thus there was no real puzzle here. At the same time, I sensed that the universe really could send messages to me this way, that nothing was truly random if I only knew how to read the signs — and my brain tried very hard to weigh the truth embedded in these clues. I remember the sky grew dark that afternoon. Again I had a dual interpretation for this: either I was getting closer to the criminal in a real crime, or I was dabbling with dark forces by pretending this way.
I learned as I grew older that some people cannot deal with this kind of mind play, that there are people who have trouble accepting that some things in our world can be simply random, people in my own family. My mother was absent that summer, a victim of her own break with reality, but all I remember from that time was that she was somehow sick and needed to go away for a while. She did come back home, but was hospitalized on and off for years as I grew up. Sometimes her interpretations of clues overlapped with random things in my room, like the exposed face of a playing card on the bottom of a deck, or the way trinkets piled in the drawer of my night table. Far removed from those days, I also heard stories about how my grandmother would see secret messages in the way the neighbor hung laundry on the clothesline outside her window.
So when people talk to me about synchronicity and how some higher power in the universe might guide us to cross paths with people or information, I want to believe this could be true. It would be empowering to know how to spot clues planted in the world around me, as guideposts to navigate my life. Yet I fear that this is a doorway to madness, seeing too much meaning where none exists.
Instead, I crave puzzles of the mundane and obvious sort. I work crosswords and Sudoku, I watch television shows with CSI techs gathering forensic evidence and detectives looking for patterns in the behaviour of people. It seems safer this way.