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March 11, 2021

Destiny versus Choices: A Lesson from the Road on Impermanence.

I was nearly born in the back of a Nash Rambler as it careened through the back roads of the Catskills to catch the interstate to Rochester.

My mother was terse with my father from the backseat as they stopped for tolls.

To this day, he denies waiting for change. I couldn’t see from my position to provide an accurate account, but it was a fundamental disagreement that hung between them up to her death and probably was the start of the fracture that had broken their bond before then.

I can’t say for sure. I wasn’t paying attention and didn’t know I had to. It was simply the world as I knew it from my limited perspective as we were rushing toward what would be a life-changing event for all of us. We knew where we should go but didn’t know if we were going to get there.

Where I should go and where I am going rarely seem to be the same thing.

Conjoined perhaps, but not the same. Some people believe in destiny, and that’s okay for them—with destiny, there’s no responsibility. Do something or not doing something; it’s predetermined–it was supposed to happen. Living that way works for a guilt-free life. Stop for the toll, wait for change, don’t wait for change—it doesn’t matter.

Mr. Sweeny, in T.S. Eliot’s Fragment of an Agon, is role-playing the cannibal with his friend Doris, who plays the missionary, when he proclaims, “Birth, and copulation, and death. That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks.”

If there is birth, there will at some point be death. No choice. It will happen: destiny.

For me, that’s as far as predetermination goes. The copulation is debatable and generally has a lot of variables attached to it. Without copulation, there’s no birth. Choices, even if by accident, get made.

Little things, like what pants to wear, what to eat, listening to a song, or listening to someone you love, all add up to create a moment. Taking responsibility and owning these moments feels rich—there is agency.

It stings like a bee when I’m wrong and, like a good whisky, when I’m right. Considering choices as an act of fate leaves them ringing hollow. I’m a third party in a fate situation, and although I may reap the benefit or pain, it’s never really mine.

My father made it to the hospital. My mother brought me successfully into the world with the trauma of normal birth. I do recall shouting with both aggravation and wonder at the experience for which today I still have no words. The colors, the clarity of sound, the wonder of the new sensations of smell and touch brought me to tears. That was a moment unlike any other I have ever had.

It’s confusing stringing moments into a logical journey. Cultural conditioning deceived me. Because there is a beginning and a definite end, I thought there was an actual path, a journey I was supposed to follow to success.

No one pointed out that the world is round. Travel far enough, and I end up back where I began. The weathering that occurs during that time would have happened whether or not I had left.

As a child, I had been given the impression that we grow, go to school, finish school, get jobs and then become fully functional adults, aware of how we fit in the world. That’s the story I was brought up on. Reliable as a blanket on a bed.

When I got a job, I found there is always something else to do, something unfinished. When I was younger, I thought that a promotion or higher position would help.

“I just need another job, and then I will be somebody.”

Instead, I suspect I am not alone when I confess: I’m tired, I ache, and I feel still feel like there is more to do.

I’m really not in the same place I started. I’m not the same. I’m all the things I was, but there’s wear and tear. Some senses have gotten dull, others sharpened.

My mother isn’t around to comfort me. My father is passed an age to protect me—and I wouldn’t expect him to anyway. Friends have come and gone, I’ve been in love, love evolved, and I have my own children who have grown to the point of not needing my protection.

People grow, people change, and relationships evolve.

If destiny is a certainty, then the ending is destiny—the time up to then is not.

There is no certainty. My own choices and the responsibility for them are what create my road. Maybe I’ll get to a highway, and maybe I’ll stop for tolls. All I know is that I am going to keep making choices.

My road is paved with a long, slow accumulation of experiences tangled with feelings of love, fear, loneliness, joy, sadness, and awe, influencing its twists and turns.

Death is not a worry because it’s not a choice.

How I spend my time on the road, how I experience it is my choice. When I own the responsibility for those choices that I can call it, and the time, mine.

My hope is that each day, at least for a moment, I can find a flash of the wonder I felt with my first breath.

~

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