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This Week

Perspectives

Chris Jepson

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We are all fated to die. Such is our fate, our condition. That, in and of itself, does not necessarily mean our lives are determined, although that is a subject worthy of debate. We may “determine” that walking down the east side of Fifth Avenue today is preferable, although the Barneys store window across the street looks particularly inviting with its provocative window displays of sexy, flirty, diaphanous come-hither summer clothing. And our crossing the street, therefore, already determined by our need to be sexually attractive … desirable. Sigh.

Ah, the meaning of life. I am one of those, you know, those who believe that human meaning is an individual construct. Those indoctrinated with religious dogma will find meaning spelled out for them — a comfort I well understand. Most of us prefer certainty, myself included. But I find the “structural” inconsistencies, superstition, historical cruelty and absurdity associated with organized religion too big of a laughable hurdle for me to “jump.” Is it particularly important how you’ve arrived (what metaphors you embrace) at being a “good” human being? I think you can arrive at such a juncture without the benefit, nay, in spite of any religious upbringing.

I’ve thought for years that the biggest gift one generation can give the next is to let go of the shopworn ideas that informed that “age.” Look at how far we’ve come (and we have) regarding race relations or sexual preferences or what is expected of women. In spite of the ignorance and intolerance of older Americans (boomers on up), America is inexorably moving to a better place when it comes to viewing humanity as incredibly, richly and fortunately diverse. It is.

I was prompted to write today on fate vs. luck by a recent conversation and the subsequent notes I took — you know what Abe Lincoln said, “The faintest ink is better than the fondest memory.” Are we lucky or is it fate? Does luck exist? Does fate? Do bad things happen to good people because their luck ran out or because the fates interceded?

Is fate the same as determinism? Is every human act the inevitable consequence of antecedent actions? We shouldn’t confuse determinism with pre-determinism where “all” was decided during the big inning — hah! — in the beginning. Love dat gospel!

The ancient Greeks were big into the “fates.” The Romans adopted, fawn-like, the Greek gods and ideals, but fate, over time, became Fortuna, more of a goddess of luck than fate.

So where are we today in this fate vs. luck discussion? I ask, “What is the luckiest thing that can happen to a (any) human being?” Consider that for a moment. Some will convincingly argue for “one’s” attitude, that regardless what life pitches, one’s attitude sees it as either — to use the shopworn — a lemon or an opportunity to make lemonade. I like that. I do. However.

We’re fated to have parents. It cannot happen otherwise. Biological, involved, even absent. But the complete luck of the draw is to whom one is born.

There is no bigger gift in life than catching the lucky train of good parents, specifically the good mother. We do not ask to be born. So when we arrive — pop! — into the arms of a loving, nurturing mother, fate may have determined your arrival. But not to whom. Luck did.