Thursday, December 2, 2004

33. Is there reasoning in fate?

The holiday season brings imagery of magic and miracles. From the holiday spirit to religious tradition, the season is filled with stories of warmth and comfort. The season is also filled with holiday masterpieces, such as "A Christmas Carol," "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street," that tempt the magical romance of destiny with the miraculous mysteries of life.

The idea of destiny is a problematic one, full of notions, misgivings and ideas- each as plausible as the next. This debate, the idea of fate and destiny versus personal choice and free will, makes for fascinating conversation with family and friends. Good-natured dialogue, the sparring over meanings and reasons attributed to fate are fun to postulate and consider.

It is impossible not to consider fate, especially when just the other day I left fifteen minutes late for work only to pass a serious accident in my path that looked to have occurred ten to fifteen minutes prior. Immediately my thoughts turned to, "What if I would have left on time," and "Why was I running late on this day, of all days?" Sometimes there is guilt, "Would things have turned out differently if I wasn't late," for I thought maybe my influence on the situation would have changed things. Maybe I would have slowed down one of the drivers, altering the split-second coordination of the event. Conversely, maybe I would have made things worse. I can go back and consider things like the time I went to bed, how long it took to let my dogs out, etc. But maybe, in the end, the accident was a matter of destiny for the drivers involved?

The insinuation of fate makes up the popular phrase, "everything happens for a reason." So often, and in a variety of situations, the phrase is used to account for an unpleasant occurrence. And the phrase is somewhat synonymous to "God works in mysterious ways," for inevitably it is only God that has knowledge of the reason behind the unpleasant occurrence. Regardless of responsibility, the phrase aims at providing comfort and reassurance- to mark the event minor in the grand scheme of things. So, if for example, someone loses his or her job, the response that everything happens for a reason both, takes away some responsibility and proposes that greater opportunities remain ahead. It can definitely make someone feel better, but is it accurate?

The rebuttal to this reassurance is that unpleasant things often happen and then we find the reason (i.e. cause and effect) or, subsequently, note the insignificance of its occurrence. Hence, in the example above, the reason is probably not the destiny of better opportunity, although that may certainly happen, but rather the reality of layoffs or poor performance. That does not, however, mean that there is not anything good that may come of the situation. Perhaps the person who lost his job was under too much stress, and his or her health was suffering, or his or her marriage was under duress. To me, that is finding a "silver lining," not the composition of destiny.

There is always a traceable (although perhaps unknown) sequence of events that act as the perceived determination of fate. Consider President Kennedy's assassination. His assassination, both the act of, and the events leading up to it, contained numerous events that necessarily fell perfectly into the hands of fate. But the question is- if he were not murdered that day in Dallas, would he have been murdered the following week in Washington, or the next month in Chicago? Of course, we are never to know whether fate could have been altered, or if he was destined to be assassinated.

The same is also true in reverse, as sometimes an occurrence is held accountable for a sequence of events which it may or may not actually be responsible for. In this case, an event takes place and fate revolves around it. However, the key is that each event sets into motion another event, like a large decision tree- with differing paths dependent on the outcome of each individual event. The possibilities grow exponentially. The movie "The Butterfly Effect," brilliantly illustrates this point when as single events are altered, the entire outcome is changed. The main character in the movie repeatedly attempts to change the one event that would bring about his desired outcome- and, as he discovers, the possibilities are many and sometimes even tragic.

It may be impossible to ever know the truth of fate. And rather than subscribing in the allure of destiny, skepticism magnetically consumes my nature. But things do happen for a reason, and the question is, "Does the attributed reason precede or follow the event?" Whereas preceding reasoning relies on facts, or at least consistent interpretation, reasoning following the event is dependant on hope and faith. That said, admittedly, there have been many times in my life that I needed to hear the reassuring reason of hope- even if I only accepted it for a short period of time.

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