Free Will or Fate?

The debate about whether we choose or own paths or they’ve been mapped out for us has been around a long time. Longer than I have, surely.

Let me be clear: I’m a firm believer that we wind up at our destinations because of the decisions we make. I’m an equally firm believer in destiny.

This might seem like a contradiction, but it isn’t. We’re all meant to encounter certain people in our lives and achieve certain goals–that’s the part controlled by fate. We make mistakes along the way and not only does the nature of each mistake shape us, so does its timing and what we learn from it. That’s the part where our free will steps in.

Have you ever wondered why you fell in love with that boy or girl sixth grade? Or what happened to your best friend in high school? Or why your co-worker had to die so young? And how your life would be different if events hadn’t taken those people away from you?

I’ve always wondered about these types of things. But these days, I view them from a slightly different perspective. In fact, my perspective has been skewing the past few years–which is another story.

I met a man four years ago. Let’s call him David. Since that time, David and I have come to learn that our paths have crossed multiple times during our lives, yet we never actually met. We came this close to meeting half a dozen times but, still, no go. I truly believe we were meant to meet (the reason has yet to be determined) and the choices David and I made postponed that meeting.

Here are some examples: (1) David vacationed in Bermuda the same week in April 1986 that I traveled to Bermuda for a 4-day business trip. We stayed at the same hotel, but never met. (2) For three years during the late 80s, David paid his monthly heating bill in person. My insurance agency leased space in the same building that housed his oil company’s office and he parked his car right outside my front window every time he made his monthly visit. We never met. (3) For two years in the mid-90s, David worked in a small town in the next state. At that same time, I lived in the same state–and the shortcut he took through a residential neighborhood drove him right by my house. Nope, we never met.

I often wonder if we actually did run into each other, and maybe nodded or smiled the way strangers do when they pass on the sidewalk or in a store. If so, that memory is buried so deeply I’ll never recover it.

As if just missing each other three times (that we know of) weren’t enough, David actually DID meet my brother AND my father. But not me.

His stepdaughter and my brother met at her wedding–my brother was married to her half-sister at the time. About seven or eight years ago, David and my father engaged in a conversation at a self-service gas station one winter that was so memorable (my Dad was an unforgettable character) that he recognized Dad when I introduced them four years ago.

The point of all this? I’m giving you proof that fate decided David and I needed to meet. I also give you proof we made choices that messed with that plan. Multiple times over the course of a great many years.

This is what I’ve learned. After life kicks you to the curb, you have several choices–assuming a bus doesn’t squash you before you get to consider them.

  1. Remain in the street and allow yourself to become a victim to everything that travels on the roadway. In other words, you don’t travel your own path, you choose to obstruct the pathway of others and impede their progress, and you do nothing to help yourself.
  2. Pull yourself up onto the sidewalk and wait for help. You’re still interfering with the flow of traffic, but not in a manner that’s as harmful or obvious–to either yourself or the pedestrians. You’re not doing much to help yourself, but at least you’re not in danger of being run over by a bus.
  3. Pull yourself out of the street and either stumble, walk, or run the heck out of there. Your actual process of ambulation will probably be determined by how badly you’re hurt and whether you’re the kind of person who’s motivated more by avoiding pain or seeking pleasure.

When we’re in survival mode, we don’t think about pleasure too much. The same holds true when we’re afraid. When we’re just trying to survive, we’re numb. Or we use all kinds of crazy things to deaden our emotions. When we’re avoiding what scares us, our senses go on overload and we can’t feel anything. We expend so much energy looking for the bogeyman, we have no energy left to see what’s right in front of us.

But to really live life, we need to feel. Sometimes those feelings aren’t pleasant. Sometimes, they’re downright painful. And sometimes people mess with our plans and make us even more uncomfortable. But when we move around and shift perspectives, things change.

Before we make decisions, we need to look forward, backward, and at today. Because everything we say, everything we do, has an impact. Not only on us, but on other people. And on fate, as well.

You’re where you’re supposed to be. But your precise location, and who are you are–inside, where it counts–are determined by you.

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