I have always believed in fate; at least, until recently. The problem I now see is that I have been simplifying fate in the same way I simplified reason (or reasoning). We often like to assign fate to positive outcomes (that can been seen after the fact). It is a bit like Monday morning quarterbacking. However, Ambrose Bierce writes (and here I paraphrase a bit) that nothing is so improbable as what is true. Consider for a moment just how improbable it was for any one of us to end up where we are at this point in time.
My wife and I grew up in different states. Very different childhoods. Yet here we are. With three kids. Most recently Zoey. And consider for another moment just how improbable it is that she is now our daughter.
I met Karen my freshmen year at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD. The first memory I have of her is in a tight orange shirt and bright lipstick. It took me over a year to ask her out. And when I did, on our way home from a “kegger,” let’s just say I had a decent amount of beer. I woke up the next morning and went to her roommate, Martha. “Did I ask Karen out last night?” “Yes.” “And did she say yes?” “Yes.” So, the smooth guy that I was, I took her to a movie about Chess. We were on and off for the next three years. Shortly before graduation, we split up (but still went on our planned trip to D.C. together). I travelled Europe then settled in London and worked as a bus boy. Karen volunteered on the Texas boarder at a Catholic birthing clinic. During our time apart we had continued to write (still, at that time, actual letters, hand written. I recall writing many of the letters at this ancient cemetery in Stoke Newington where I would go to escape the “City” and be surrounded by nature. It was gothic and overgrown and beautiful). When I got home I drove down to Texas. Heading down there, I had no idea what to expect. On our final night, in a tent on the sandy beach of Padre Island, we decided to get married.
The word “decided” is important. As we talked that night, we both spoke about what we wanted to do in our lives. We were 23. I think that we both knew that we either had to take the next step or go our separate ways. I told her that I did not want to wait long to start a family. Karen said she wanted to volunteer overseas before settling down into a career in nursing. I remember sitting there, looking at one-another, two individuals so alike and so very different. We decided to get married. In order to make it official, I took off her ring I gave her in college (cubic zirconia), and officially proposed. She said yes, and I put it back on. It was not something that either of us expected to happen during that trip. We were married nine months later. And three days after our wedding we boarded a plane to Nepal; we spent the first seven months of our marriage in the foothills of the Himalayas. Shortly after our return home we began the process of attempting to start a family.
Fate seems like a nice answer. It was meant to be. But that belies free will and the very difficult and important discussion and subsequent decision that we both made that night. We made a choice. As to fate, I am no longer sure what it means, exactly. Because if fate works out for the good things, then it must also apply to the horrific things. Consider (a fictional example): My car broke down and I did not make it to work. That day at work a gas leak blew up the building. Fate guided the hand of my car, and now I am alive. It was scripted. It was written. It was fate. But if that is the case, then it was also fate that all those in the building died.
I included faith along with fate in the title of this blog because I believe that faith, for me, represents a more honest response. Fate is too tidy. Too simple. Faith is messy, complicated, and does not claim to know why but simply accepts what is. It was not Fate that brought Karen and I to the beach that night. It was a series of decisions and choices. However, it was definitely faith that led us to make the big decision to merge our paths for the remainder of our lives.
I mentioned in my last post that I am often asked why I adopted. And that, for a long time, I looked at it as fate. It was fate that led me to Karen, that complicated the “normal” route of starting a family, the led us to our children. However, if that is the case, then it was also fate that we lost several children along the way. Rather, it makes more sense to me now to simply say that I have faith that I can handle what has occurred and am equipped to handle what may occur. I have faith that I can be a husband to my wife and father to my kids. And these were and still are Decisions. Not Fate. But they require Faith.
For me, faith involves my own relationship with Christianity (Methodism to be exact); however, that is far from the only way. Faith can be drawn from myriad religions. Indeed, one does not necessarily need to “believe” in a religion or even a higher power to have faith. We put faith in our automobile every day despite the fact that statistically, driving is one of the most dangerous things that we do.
One: If I were to still accept the ability to jinx myself, then I also would have to accept that I have the ability to affect fate. That is a lot of power, and quite frankly, power that I am perfectly happy not to have. Two: If I believe that I have the ability to understand the reason why something happens, then I also am stating that I have the capability to understand how fate works. In both circumstances, I reduce fate to something simple, something comforting, or something that at the very least purports to rationalize how “bad” things may inevitably lead to “good” things. So, it seems, that I am letting go of Fate as well. And letting go of all three has actually increased my Faith.
Consider the creation narrative from the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve are told to refrain from doing one simple thing. Don’t eat the forbidden fruit. And they do. But that is a simplification of a more complex, more nuanced narrative. They are told not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is such an important part of the narrative, and one that seems often to be overlooked. It is not just that mankind is being punished for not listening to an arbitrary rule. That mankind are being punished for giving into simple temptation. They are being punished for claiming knowledge that is not theirs to have.
For me, this has always meant that the ultimate sin is to claim to know God, to know with certainty what God intends. To put it another way: to judge in place of God. So many of the ways that Christianity (and many other religions as well) go so wrong is often when practitioners claim to speak for God and base judgements on what they believe God sees as right and wrong. Hence the ways in which the LGBT community is attacked based upon cherry picked language. And decades earlier, how slavery was rationalized by excerpts taken out of context. Or when heretics were burned at the stake. But those are just the big ones. This works on so many levels.
The way I look at the temptation placed at the center of the Garden of Eden is this: God says that we have the run of the Garden (Earth), and the responsibility of taking care of the Garden; however, the moment we think that we have all the answers, the moment that we stop learning and start judging and playing God, the moment we become immutable and certain, then we are in danger of committing the ultimate sin. The Garden is too complex of a place to claim to know. We cannot know the plan. We cannot know what fate awaits the Garden. But we can make decisions. We have choice. And we can have faith. Hence the temptation. But the choice to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is the choice to claim that we have the ability to have all the answers and that we can stop learning and evolving. That we can sit back and play God. That we can sit in judgement of others.
I imagine one could take my words to mean that we should not claim to know good and evil. That good and evil do not exist. That everything is relative and dependent upon one’s perspective. But that is not the case. I also imagine that one could take my previous post as saying that there is not a reason for anything, that there is no plan and all is random. But that is not the case either. Rather, what I am saying is that the reason(s) and the plan are beyond our ability to comprehend. But we can have faith that they may indeed exist. All we can do is make decisions. All we can do is to choose how to respond. And that response, as I mentioned in my first post, can come from fear or strength.
While living in Khadbari (Nepal), a small village at the foothills of Mt Makalu (one peak East of Everest), which was a two week hike from the nearest road, and an 8 hour hike from the nearest “airfield” (actually a grass landing area for a very small plane), Karen and I experienced the Tihar festival. We were living with a family (Rajkumar and Rupa, and their children). The festival lasted five days. In that time we visited family after family in the village. We ate, drank, danced. Chickens and goats were sacrificed. Rice and paste were put on our foreheads. It was a celebration of the people, the Gods, and the animals. It was beautiful.
It also took place in one of the most impoverished nations in the world. We slept on a wood plank in sleeping bags under a mosquito net. The toilet was outside, down the steps, and consisted of a hole with two places to put your feet. I recall walking down one evening with my headlamp, squatting over the hole, looking up, and seeing over a hundred cockroaches on the walls. But despite the poverty, the lack of amenities, the people lived complex and often contradictory lives. Not all that different from us. They were not perfect. The last thing I want to do is say is that they somehow had a quaint, simple life that was morally superior to the American lifestyle. They were just as messy and complicated as anyone. And they, too, had faith. They looked upon the Garden and they made choices. They made decisions. And that is all we can really do.
Almost twenty years ago, Karen and I sat in that tent under a clear, star filled sky in San Padre, Texas. There was sand in our tent, in our clothes. We had been on opposite sides of the world for nearly seven months. And we made a choice to get married. I will no longer say it was fate. But through strength and faith, we approach 19 years this August.
Speaking of August; it was August of 2011 when the St. Louis Cardinals were down by 10.5 games. They won the World Series. I ended my last post by mentioning the Cardinal’s win streak. Promptly after posting, they dropped five in a row. However, if I take credit for that, then I can also take credit for the sweep of the Cubs in Wrigley. It was my presence that sparked the winning. It feels good to be able to joke about this. And it feels good to be able to write about all of this. The Cardinals dropped five in a row, not because of a jinx, not because of fate, but rather because their closer, Trevor Rosenthal, is having a tough time closing games. It happened again last night. And now, Mike Matheny, when the next close 9th inning situation arises, will have his own decision to make. I have faith that he will make the right one, just like Karen and I did on the beach so many years ago.