"Our lives are as much a product of what we choose not to do as what we actually do. The lives we don't live inform the lives we live, and sometimes even haunt them." –Rebecca McClanahan
There’s an evocative, enigmatic stillness that arises in the middle of the night, when most of the world is fast asleep. On rare occasions (often in the presence of a bonfire and a bottle of wine), I find myself turning my face toward the stars, contemplating just how little we know about the invisible forces that shape our lives—those that we’ll never fully comprehend, no matter how far science advances.
There have been countless turning points in my story where a single decision set off a chain of events that changed the course of my life in ways I could never have predicted. If I hadn’t fallen in love right as I was deciding where to spend the second half of college, I likely wouldn’t have chosen to stay in Boston. If I hadn’t been unceremoniously betrayed by the person I loved a few short months later, I would never have applied for a part-time job to distract me from the overwhelming emotional fallout. If I hadn’t gotten the job at that particular Starbucks at that particular time, I would never have met the man I ended up marrying. The cause-and-effect chain is infinite and mind-boggling.
When I ask Alex about this, he says that he believes that certain things in life are destined to occur. The complex web of our fates would shift to ensure that our paths would cross at a pivotal moment, no matter the choices that had taken us in different directions before that moment. If it hadn’t been that Starbucks, he’s certain, it would have been another—if not Boston, then somewhere else. We were fated to meet, and regardless of the course of our lives up until that point, we would have ended up together.
On these rare occasions in the middle of the night, I wonder: Is there a parallel universe for every road not taken, every possibility that never materialized? Somewhere out there, is there a separate future unfolding for every job I ever applied to and didn’t get; every college I considered but didn’t attend; every relationship that ended prematurely or never began at all? Who would I have turned out to be? How much can one event impact the course of our lives—and how far could the two roads diverge before I would no longer recognize myself? Would my life have been easier? Would I have been more successful? Would I be happier?
I’ve learned that people are astonishingly resilient. In spite of how often we attach our happiness to a particular outcome, we tend to be equally optimistic or pessimistic regardless of our circumstances. We find trivial things to be frustrated by even if we’re incredibly lucky; and extraordinarily simple things make us illogically happy even when our lives are extremely difficult.
Given the chance, would you choose to live any other version of your life? Do you believe that you’d feel more fulfilled had any thwarted future played out instead of the one that you’re living? Would you choose to skip over the difficulties that you’ve endured along the way in favor of an easier but less meaningful learning experience?
For me, the answer will always be a resounding “no.” I continually choose my wild, idiosyncratic, complicated, non-linear story over any other. I like to think that the universe functions in the equilibrium between good and evil; that adversity is ultimately counter-balanced by good fortune on the balance sheet of our lives. I choose to believe that there’s a greater significance underlying our existence than a story we craft to connect a series of disparate events—a meaning that we spend our lives searching for, before ultimately realizing that it’s up to each of us to create it.
Do you believe in fate? When you look up at the stars in the middle of the night, beside a crackling fire with a glass of wine in your hand, what do you think about?