Do you believe in fate? Do you believe that you have choices? If someone says – it was meant to be or it’s fate – do you accept that? Or instead, do you consider it a convenient excuse for rationalizing almost anything?
My French friends love the expression “il n’y a pas de hasard,” which means, literally translated, there is no such thing as chance. It is a romantic idea, with oodles of appeal, and I find it somehow suited to the French character and culture.
Like many, I’ve experienced my inexplicable moments, my wild wins against all odds, and other happenings that lead me to believe that something remarkable has just occurred.
That human beings ascribe divine or supernatural influences to these low-probability (happy) events is not surprising. We seek to explain what we can any way that we can, even if the explanation is mystery, faith, or notions of destiny and fate. And I wonder – is this the adult version of the child’s belief in magic?
Do you romanticize occurrences that you cannot otherwise explain? Do you rely on “meant to be” when what you’re actually doing is searching to rationalize actions or events that otherwise make no sense?
When I was a child, weekend antiquing was part of our routine. My father was generally on a golf course if the weather was good, so my mother would load up the station wagon with the dog, some provisions for the day, and of course – my brother and me.
I have vague (and pleasant) recollections of those times – days meandering small town New England, puttering through country stores, dank and dusty shops, and the occasional trip that included my grandmother, as we explored Pennsylvania Dutch Country.
My mother had little disposable income – perhaps a few dollars a week. But it was the sixties, prices were not inflated, and she knew her antiques. She was fearless (and formidable) when she wanted something, and unafraid to act when she discovered a treasure, certain that it “was meant to be.” Whatever it took, she’d find a way to negotiate her purchase.
Life lessons for children
There were many lessons in these excursions, and in my mother’s approach and tenacity. In particular, when it came to something she deemed valuable, and wished to possess. She could be overbearing and unrelenting one minute, or sweet as the proverbial pie the next. Whatever seemed effective, she utilized.
But looking back, what do I see?
- single-minded determination
- perseverance in the face of obstacles
- insistence on negotiating in one’s self interest
- a sense of “meant to be.”
If my mother was able to close the deal, even if it would require sending $5/week for a year to make a purchase, she didn’t hesitate. If she couldn’t make it work, she’d let it go, chalking it up to the fact that it wasn’t meant to be.
Patterns carried into adulthood
That my mother’s rigorous work ethic is part of my behavioral make-up is beyond question. That her love of art and language is part of what she bequeathed to me, equally so. But that I have this sense of destiny – only in certain scenarios – is a recent discovery.
This has always been the case in my own pursuit of treasure, which for me has more often been a work of art. My approach, when something was beyond my means? Make a case, negotiate, suggest a payment plan, and then decide that whatever the result, it was meant to be.
In my search for jobs and projects in these many months, I realize I’ve had a similar approach. An odd mix of fate and determination.
I’ve given each opportunity all I’ve got – and doubly so, when the fit seemed truly right. There have been serendipitous encounters that looked incredibly promising, but did not pan out. I have consoled myself with it’s not meant to be. In that, I recognize a sort of soothing mantra, a salve to the disappointment, a means to allow me to lick my wounds and then go on, with determination.
Failure and fate
But when it comes to relationships – including my relationship with myself – I am anything but a woman who believes that something is meant to be or not. In this, I believe I choose to think like a man.
Might “destiny” or some other unseen force lend a hand? Maybe yes, maybe no. But can “il n’y a pas de hasard” justify any action? The random meeting? The opportunity to benefit from another’s mistake? Or our own acceptance of damning notions of failure, particularly in relationships, in parenting, and in our assessment of our self worth?
Unlike my mother – who viewed the world through a dark lens, I do not cede to the concept of fate. Nor do I accept traditional interpretations of failure, and the way they insinuate themselves into the territory of what is meant to be or not.
I reject the easy notions of failure in American society, especially those that women wear so readily, much like guilt, when disappointment is taken too much to heart.
- We do not fail at marriages so much as we expect too much of ourselves and partners, and cannot possibly anticipate the changes we will all encounter.
- We do not fail at parenting so much as we cannot live up to our picture-perfect ideals, or the images painted by media.
- We do not fail as women so much as we do not judge ourselves by meaningful standards; rather, we use airbrushed pictures, reflections in other eyes, and not our own mirrors.
None of this is about “meant to be.” Il n’y a pas de hasard? Really?
History, futures, choices
Is “fate” what allows us to turn around our lives, or dissuades us from succeeding?
I don’t think so.
Are there factors beyond our control?
Yes, I’ll buy that.
Is there value to a balance of planning and going with the flow? Are we better positioned to deal with whatever comes as we gain experience and perspective?
On those adventures with my mother, we set off without plan. We searched for treasures, and some were found. Certainly, the journey is what I remember, and very few of the specifics or the acquisitions.
As for the objects themselves, a handful remain in my home. Their value, to me, lies in their history, the tales they could recount, their marred and worn surfaces, their beauty in caring craftsmanship. Part of their history is my history, and will be passed along to my sons. That is not destiny; it is a choice, a legacy of stories, a promise.
You May Also Enjoy