Destiny is very much like the wind blowing over the face of the oceans. It seems arbitrary, Mahler-esque, mysterious. It is the demons that challenge our very marrows, the angels that deliver help unlooked for, and the people that cross our paths just when we need them to. It is the law of the universe. It is entropy and order mixed in a fractal setting. Scientists have tried to express this in the form of the Grand Unified Theory. In principle the equation describing this theory is the oracle of what once was and what is to come.
So I believe it is with community, acquaintances, family and friends. Carl Jung says, “What is not brought to consciousness comes to us as fate.” Some people in my life feel as if they have been delivered to me by fate, for good or ill. They come into my life just when I need them or when I am ready for the challenge, or I into theirs just at the right moment for them.
Sometimes I feel like a protagonist in a novel, stumbling through a previously written script without knowing the lines or cues. I seem to have an internal drive, somewhat akin to inertia, which leads me from point to point in the epic of my life. Of all the paths I have taken or detoured into, few have been completed. My previous mistakes and detours have redirected me to continue on what ends up being a path strewn with breadcrumbs along the way, a certain configuration of yellow bricks stretching out before me.
If Fate is the wind, then Free Will is how the sails are set. It is improvisation – Jazz! With free will, we decide. We do not allow circumstances to dictate our decisions … that is, unless we want them to. It is the opposite of being a victim, that passive voice in the conversation of life. Many, indeed most, who are born into poverty will die in poverty, stricken prematurely with disease or violence or both. Conversely, most that are born into privilege will live long, productive lives. Fate would have these people resigned to their destiny.
However, there are some who will buck this trend … in both directions. A child born into poverty, growing up as a gangster, dealing drugs, getting arrested, suddenly decides that enough is enough. He gets a GED, studies hard, and eventually becomes a respected chief of neurosurgery. Another child is born into privilege to loving parents, has a gentle upbringing surrounded by books, bedtime stories, and poetry, but decides that violence is the way to deal with life’s problems and perceived injustices, and becomes the Unabomber.
I think our hearts play a huge part in determining how much free will we exercise. They give us inertial tendencies, like a lodestone. Although we do not have control over our circumstances, we at least have a choice in how we react to them.
“The last of the human freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.” –Victor Frankl
The interplay of Fate and Free Will feels analogous to Sailing. I have always loved to sail. For me it is like being God-intoxicated, it is a realm of magic, an immersion in Brahms’s Fourth Symphony. I’ve been out there in some pretty severe storms, the little girl helping her parents guide the boat to shore, warning “rock” as I look out wide-eyed from the tip of the bow with lightning flashes all around, and I am unafraid, innocent, and hopeful.
Destiny and Free Will also seem to have a recursive relationship. Fate may deliver the situation, but the decisions we make in responding to that situation will influence the kinds of situations or circumstances that follow. The impact of each individual decision is not dramatic, but they add up. And, they do not seem to lead to the destination in a straight line, but more like a collection of zigzags as we adjust to each situation, each change in the direction of the wind, until at last we reach the shore.
I like to believe that we need not be victims of fate, although I do feel that we do need to watch for myriad signs, those rocks that might guide us at every turn, all the while discerning the truth of these “signs” with our own aptitude and humility. Storms, shifting winds, can take all the strength we can muster, and yet we can re-set our sails over and over as we adjust to each new challenge. We can transform our suffering, mingle into the weather patterns and actually, with each breath, become one with the wind.