Coincidence or Fate?

fatecoincidencecoincidence: a remarkable concurrence of events which have no apparent causal connection with each other.

fate: the development of events, beyond a person’s control, regarded as determined by a supernatural power.

Everything happens for a reason, doesn’t it? Growing up with a strict religious background it was something that was just understood. It was God who brought about everything, and we were just the paeans who had “free will” but who were just endlessly spinning our wheels, lost in sinful pursuits. I’m not going to say that we called it fate, but it was a close cousin, at the least. Manifest destiny maybe?

So I grew up, and I discarded my religious upbringing — well, discarded the vast majority of what I considered flawed thinking. But did I jettison this idea of predestination as well? I didn’t really give it much thought, but I did know that I believed we as individuals had some say with the way things turned out in our lives. I knew that sometimes when things happened that I hadn’t anticipated, or that in retrospect turned out to be advantageous, I couldn’t always pin it on coincidence.

Case in point: in February of 2003, my special lady and I decided that we would get married on May 20th of that same year. The date was set in stone because on the 18th I was to graduate from college, on the 19th we were to bring my mother back to the train station, so we knew well ahead of time what the schedule would bring. We also knew at the time that our favorite band, the band that was responsible for bringing us together, was going to release an album that year as well, but it wasn’t until late March that they settled on a release date. Guess when? May 20th.

It doesn’t end there, though. That same band broke up in 2009 and went their separate ways, but late last year they decided to reunite after nearly 8 years apart, to release a new album and embark on a tour. I swore we would go see them if they came anywhere near Philly, but we had to wait a couple weeks before they released a list of tour dates. Tour dates just came out, and guess when they’re coming to a venue just a quick ferry ride from Philly? You got that right. May 20th.

Coincidence? I think not. If it is, then it’s one hell of a big coincidence, that they would be playing the perfectly placed venue on our anniversary, so many years later. I think it was meant to be — kismet — fate — destiny — whatever means the same thing in this case. I love it that these parts of our relationship dovetail so neatly with the band that brought us together in the first place, time and again. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, so secure in some kind of plan for my life, be it divine or whatnot.

It’s funny how those things happen, and I guess it doesn’t even really matter if it’s coincidence, if it’s fate, or if it’s some weird amalgamation of the two. What matters is that my wife and I are heading to Camden on May 20th, and we’re going to see an amazing show as our anniversary present to ourselves. And that’s something special.


This Is Acting

sia-this-is-actingLife is a series of actions and reactions, the interactions between us and others, between us and our surroundings, and between us and our own minds.

We wrestle with decisions every day, fighting against thoughts that could tend to derail us. We have expectations that we strive to achieve, provided we actually believe they are possible to achieve. We adjust to the things that happen to us, and are praised when we do it in a particularly solid and creative way.

Yay! We made the best of a bad situation! Congratulations! We got it done when others thought it couldn’t be done!

But the secret is much more damning, that we generally let the world happen around us, and we are pushed along with its ebb and flow like detritus caught in the waves. The positive things that happen in our lives are usually the result of being in the right place at the right time, or of capitalizing on something that happens to break the right way.

There’s a strong element of chance in how things go for us, even when we do our best to make things happen the way we want them to, and on some level we all know it. Think about when a team wins a championship and the star player thanks god for giving him or her the ability to compete at that level, or when a television producer gets up at an awards show and says how lucky he or she was to be in front of everyone accepting whatever award.

How much is chance, or luck, involved in what ultimately happens to us? I think about my own relationships — my friendships, my marriage — and I realize how much that can truly be applied even just to me and how things have gone in my life. If I hadn’t liked a particular band, and if my wife hadn’t liked the same band, and if we both hadn’t decided that band was worth it enough to join its internet mailing list…

The “Ifs” are endless, because every move we make is a move we didn’t make in another direction. We can’t possibly know how every single one of those moves would have turned out if we had made them. Is that chance, or is that destiny? Is that us making our own way, or is it something so far beyond our capability that in a million years we couldn’t make the same combinations occur if we tried?

clapper-02You know, on a daily basis we do way more reacting than acting. We let things happen to us instead of going out and making things happen. That’s why we’re generally surprised when someone says they went out and made something happen. “Good for you!” we say, with our jaws hanging on the ground, and we say how we are now inspired to go out and make thing happen for ourselves.

Then we go right back to reacting. It’s human nature. I would say I have genuinely acted on two major occasions, and both times were major risks, but I took them because the possible outcomes were important enough to me not to leave them to chance, not to let the tide take me back out again with the other refuse.

You’d think since both those times turned out so well (one of them was deciding to move here to be with the woman I love) that I would take that as a sign I need to do more acting instead of reacting, that I should stop letting “destiny” bounce me around like a beach ball.

I am working on it, but it’s hard to fight human nature unless there’s something large at stake otherwise. The problem is seeing that each instance is something large in and of itself, that the possibilities are endless, that opportunities are vast and potentially phenomenal for those who take control of their own future.

I’m still working on it.


Married to Fate

“We make our own fortunes and we call them fate.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

AN00492475_001_lHow is it that opportunities seem to happen more when we least expect them?

I’ve noticed that when we finally give up on something is usually when it happens for us, and sometimes it’s too late to truly change anything, but on occasion it’s right on time, and it saves us as surely as anything else ever could. At least that’s my experience. So why don’t I just give up more often, relying on this general rule to play itself out from the start? Because it would never work that way. Can’t trick fate.

That’s what it is, right? Fate? This idea that things are predestined and we will arrive at the same place regardless of the journey it takes us to get there? I always liked the idea of fate because it takes things like messy decision-making and dodgy free will out of the equation. Fate equalizes the playing field, or it at least gives hope to people who might be hopeless otherwise, looking at the odds, or at the mountain they have to climb.

The true glory of fate stems, not from this hope, though, but from the possibility it affords us. See, hope is fragile like a wounded bird, just waiting for the finishing blow, while possibility is an open door that might stay open forever once we’ve wedged our foot into it. Fate is this possibility, that no matter what we do or where we go wrong we can still have the happy ending our parents always told us we were meant to have. Fairy tale reality right there.

But being married to fate has its own drawbacks too. We take the bad along with the good, the notion that if we can’t affect change for ourselves then that change may well not come. While fate gives us possibility, it can also cut off possibility once time has passed and those dreams don’t come true. And there was nothing we could have done to make them a reality for ourselves, because FATE HAS SPOKEN. Being married to fate means until death do you part, and do you really want to hang your hat on that particular rack?

Perhaps free will isn’t as cloying as I made it out to be before. Maybe that’s the real source of possibility after all, the idea that even when we make mistakes we can do something to overcome them, or to avoid them the next time we are faced with similar issues. It puts all the power in our hands, but it also gives us a grave responsibility that we should never take lightly, because as much as fate is flashy, it’s all gloss and no substance. We create our own substance, and we form the world around us, either in a well-informed way or in a devil-may-care fashion, but regardless, it’s ours.

And I want a divorce.


The Fate of Clothing

imageI don’t throw clothes away, no matter how tattered and worn they’ve become. I have a t-shirt from 1998, a lovely orange one that was always big on me, but I love it, because it’s like a nightshirt at times. The bright orange that it used to be has faded to more of a burnt sienna over the years, through its myriad wearings. I’ve actually thought more than once about tossing it in the garbage. The sweat stains have set in under the armpits after so long, but I can’t bear to part with it. Because its memories are a major part of my past, from two lifetimes ago.

There are a pair of white exercise pants that I no longer wear. They are still in pristine condition, with a double-black stripe down each of the legs that seem a bit out of date but also chic at the same time. They flare at the bottoms to give them a 1970s feel that I adore and appreciate probably more than I should. For the past two years they have lain dormant, folded up like a tent in one of my closet cubbies, because, you see, the last time I wore them was a traumatic time for me. But the other memories they contain are too overwhelming to be completely destroyed by that one particular time. It is enough to leave them folded, put away, as if I will wear them again someday.

Yesterday, though, I did throw out three white tube socks. As I took them down from the clothesline I noticed each one had a medium-sized hole in its heel, as if a small bird came through and pecked them in the exact same spot, drunk as he was on power and hatred for human feet. I mourned each one in turn as I delivered them to the god of refuse. It was bad enough losing some of their brethren to the dreaded curse of the dryer, but angry birds just ratcheted up the pain another notch. Those socks were of the same batch I purchased six years ago as a present to myself for getting tenure at school. But I let them go.

imageYou see, clothing is more than just a fashion choice for me. Indeed, if I could I would probably wear the same shirt and pants every single day of my life, the most comfortable ones I own. But I can’t do that, what with societal restrictions and the fact that they would soon fall apart from excessive wearing and washing, and that suitably saddens me because certain pieces of clothing have been my friends for years. They’ve seen me through several relationships, two major moves, and a horde of special occasions. They were with me on the first days of school, on the days my daughters were born, and on hot, steamy days that seemed to have no end.

Through it all they have been with me. And I recognize them for the role they have played. But it’s getting to be time, time to retire some of those shirts that have been stretched beyond what they can bear, some of the pants that have begun to unravel from the bottom up, some of them stained as if they’re bleeding out. It’s time to choke back tears and, in the immortal words of Elsa, let it go. Let them meet a better fate than I have given them lo these many years. It’s time for them to go, and for new memories to move in to these drawers of mine.


“O, I Am Fortune’s Fool”

In William Shakespeare’s epic tale of hate (and some infatuation as well), Romeo and Juliet, he paints his title characters as ultimate victims of fate. Indeed, in a famous line in Act III, the hero himself (and I use that term loosely) utters the following phrase, “O, I am fortune’s fool.” This aligns himself utterly with the opinion that he isn’t in control of his actions, that fate has tripped him up. In fact, this is supported by the fact that he has just killed a man he had sworn to love only two scenes before. This actually maintains the thrust of Romeo’s primary character trait, his impulsivity, combined with an inability to take responsibility for what is his own doing, and nothing more. Every time I read the play (and I’ve read it about 100 times with my English classes alone), I often think about the validity of his claim, whether or not fate can be to blame, whether or not fate is real.

“He seems to suggest that a certain path is preordained, that human beings cannot venture off of it even if they try.”

In the Bible, God even has mention of fate, saying that human beings have the power of choice, that this separates us from the animals. Yet, in other places, most notably in Daniel’s dreams, He seems to suggest that a certain path is preordained, that human beings cannot venture off of it even if they try. Nebuchadnezzar does try to break the truth of what he hears from Daniel’s vision, but he does not succeed, even having prior knowledge of what is to come. So, which is it? Are things preordained, or can we change what is to come?

The premise behind the film Back to the Future also deals with this theme of shifting or changing the future, even if it has been laid out seemingly in stone. Marty McFly changes his own destiny when his mother becomes infatuated with him instead of with his father. Then he has to circumnavigate the carnage he has caused, and bring things back together. In this scenario, the power of choice can and does change what was believed to be certain destiny, with disastrous effects. So, should we be allowed to choose what happens to us, or should fate just decide and we get carried along with the crashing waves? The great Greek philosopher Theodicus has this to say about fate: “The glory of the human condition is our ability to change to suit our situation.”

“Fate is the belief in a power outside of ourselves manipulating us like puppets for ludicrous, or misunderstood, purposes.”

Today I ate two fortune cookies, and I realized it would be the perfect opportunity to observe fate in its natural setting. Simply put, many people put faith in fortune, and some even believe that what is inside their fortune cookies means something important, similar to following the horoscope readings as if they were science. Anyway, my first fortune read, “PART OF THE JOY OF A VACATION IS GETTING THERE — HAVE FUN.” Well, I think first off that this isn’t really a fortune, just a saying. I agree with it, but I’m wondering who was working at that Chinese restaurant who thought this was a fortune. On to the next one. “YOU TEND TO RAISE THE SPIRITS OF THOSE AROUND YOU.” Now, this is rather fortunate. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I thought I was making people around me miserable. This might be categorized as a fortune, as it may be talking about future spirits I will be able to raise. It might also be self-fulfilling prophecy because it serves to remind me that that’s the effect I wish to have on others.

Oh, and Romeo was wrong. He isn’t fortune’s fool. He’s just a fool who thinks he doesn’t have to take responsibility for his own impulsive actions, and in the end it catches up with him. Do you believe in fate?


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