Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Chance vs Fate

Everyone knows the drill. Inspired by Write ClubDon Hall and I take two opposing topics and try to beat each other up with our words. And then he cries, and I say shhhhhhh, it's ok! Better luck next time, big guy.

Today's topic: CHANCE vs FATE.

This was the third image when I Googled "Chance VS Fate" and I don't know what it means but I like it.


When I was sixteen, my dad and I had a fight. I don’t remember how it started, but it ended with me yelling, “Yeah? Well, at least I’m not gonna get pregnant before I get married.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I thought I was done for. My dad went quiet. But then, instead of yelling, he slowly started to grin.

“What can I say?” he smirked. “The condom broke.”

“SICK, DAD,” I yelled at his retreating back. “THAT’S SICK. YOU’RE A SICKO.” He started laughing and went down the stairs. The fight was over, and he had most definitely won.

The thing was, though, that alone in my room, I suddenly felt bad, and I couldn’t figure out why. That I was an oops child was not news. I’ve known something was up since the afternoon we trooped back from the public library and sat down to watch a copy of a National Geographic video helpfully titled “Life”. I was 8, and when the movie ended, I left my living room certain of three things:
  1. To make a baby, there has to be an exchange of fluids. 
  2. This exchange of fluids takes place during kissing, which is how the tadpoles get into moms’ stomaches from the dads’ stomaches. 
  3. Nine months later, women get weird and fat. Then, baby! 
Sometime not long after, I was standing just inside our front door, peering up at the embroidered doily hanging on the wall. “Kathryn Jean Doane and Lawrence Geoffery Prout,” it said. “Married April 25th, 1987.”

Reading this, I remembered that I was also born in 1987. Idly, I did the math. Wait, I thought. My birthday is September 8th. That’s only 4 and a fraction months. I know I’m not a preemie, Mom would’ve told me that. I must . . . I must be adopted! I let out a wail.

I cried myself to sleep that night, certain that I was adopted, and full of a great tenderness for my parents who were trying to protect me from this news. I knew they only kept me in the dark because they were worried about how this revelation would make me feel.

My blonde brothers took on different significance. The world was strange and new and full of breakable things.

I will tell my mother, I thought bravely. I will tell my mother that I am adopted, and that I know this, and that it’s ok. The next afternoon, that’s what I did, tearful and with an ever growing appreciation for my own mature and thoughtful behavior.

“Oh, Katie,” my mother sighed.

I wept, overcome.

“You’re not adopted.”

There was a pause. She searched for the right phrase.

“We just couldn’t wait to have you!”

Oh. I thought. That’s boring.

“But now don’t you go doing that, okay?” she said quickly. Do what? I wondered. “It worked out for your dad and I, but it’s good to wait.”

Years later, in my bedroom, I sat and thought about what I was feeling and why. It’s nice, I realized, to feel planned, destined, meant to be from the start. The stars aligned and unto us, a child was born.

Now, I think, oh. That’s boring. Accidents involve risk, but so does every chance one takes. So, for that matter, does living.

My parents took a chance. They got married the day my dad turned 21. That night, my young pop shotgunned a beer with his new father-in-law, while my pregnant mother watched. They had met ten months earlier in a bar just over the Blue Water bridge. He was in a band, and worked at a factory. She was in college. He remembers what she wore when they danced. She remembers the songs.

I’m 26 now. My parents’ union is four months older than me. Because my parents play with birth control like some people play Russian roulette, they have an additional five children. Of the six total, two are ill, but I suppose those are just the odds my people play. We’ve made homes, we’ve lost homes. We’ve grieved. My mom has had two different types of cancers. What are the chances of that? Probably equal to the odds of my dad’s liver grow sick from a disease entirely unrelated to drinking.

I watch my mother care for him the way he cared for her when her dad died, when she was pregnant 8 billion times, or now, when it’s the end of a particularly neurotic day and she walks by with a unique and arresting collection of hair clips, barrettes, and pins shoved all over her head to keep her hair out of her eyes. He calls this getup her helmet. Gently, he starts to take them out. She gets mad at him, and then they laugh till they cry as my dad stands, shirtless, calming my mother down while a tube sticks out of his chest.

Like a poorly applied method of birth control, his liver will eventually fail. That part of his fate is, in fact, sealed, because there is risk inherent in all living. Nothing, however, is for certain. There is always a chance, whether it arrives in the shape of a transplant or the size of a newborn, that things will turn out just fine.


An American child is born.

His parents are both white. They both have graduate degrees. His parents both come from families of "note" - society's upper crust. There is wealth involved in the family tree.

Another child is born in America.

His parents are black. Neither have a college degree. Both parents work several jobs to make ends meet and, even then, must rely on public assistance to survive.

The first child may encounter many things in his life but his fate is sealed - not by a Greek god or three mystical witches or some sort of supernatural proclamation - he is a white male from an affluent family in the United States. He will grow up and be forgiven many of his radical mistakes, his chance encounters, his (sometimes) intolerant attitudes and his momentary flirtation with the philosiophies of Howard Rourke. His fate is to skate through life.

The second child likewise has an almost insurmountable fate. He will grow up watching television with only broad and unflattering stereotypes of men who look like him. He will be stopped by the authorities for no reason than his skin color. He will be looked upon as less his entire life - unable to get a cab at night, told time and time again to emulate the other child. His fate is a dark and unkind one.

Ultimately, both boys have a similar fate in that from the moment each was conceived, the inevitable clock of Fate begins ticking with one inescapable conclusion approaching second by second. Both, with no regard to the fated privilege of the first or the fated struggles of the second, will cease to exist.

One may deny his fate; the other may escape his but the overwhelming weight of that destiny will still be there as either a squandered opportunity or a series of obstacles to overcome.

The idea that the world operates as a series of chance coincidences weaves a narrative that, because it is all up to chance, nothing we do matters. Chance dictates that our choices do not have impact to shift the balance between joy and regret. Chance rewards the slacker by telling him that nothing he does will affect the outcome and that by buying those Lotto tickets, she has just as much to gain as the next person.

Chance is fun. Chance encourages us to ignore the cultural signifiers and inevitable conclusions people around us will make about how we look, how we dress, how we speak. Chance tells the fairytale that that actor that came out of nowhere to fame and fortune got there by luck or happenstance. Chance spins the story that your choices along the Road do not make any difference in where you arrive. Chance is a lying sack of shit.

Fate motivates. Fate is the hope that there is a reason that one winter you met someone whose presence changed your life for the better. Fate is the belief that the people and experiences along the Road MEAN SOMETHING. Fate is the quiet voice inside your soul that insists that, while you are a leaf in the wind, by shifting your weight this way or that, you can arrive at a destination.

Destination. Destiny.

There MUST be an etymological reason those two words are rooted, yes?

- when you discover that thing you absolutely do better than anything else you do and it feels like dancing when you do it? Fate.

- when you meet that person and all the things seem to fit like a Lego and you instantly understand a sense that this person is a Fellow Traveler? Fate.

- when you look at the narrative twists and turns your life has taken and end up exactly where your circumstances were bound to lead? Fate.

Now - don't mistake me. I do not believe for a second that there is some Grand Plan guiding us like a Set in Stone Script placed here by some fictionalized Higher Being who somehow looks and sounds just like us. I think that's a horseshit notion created by people who simply didn't have a clue why it rained and wanted to keep their women in line.

Fate IS surmountable. Fate exists as a concept to guide things down the line like a road map. You still get to choose the direction you'll take but the roads all lead somewhere.

Fate is the inevitable outcome if you leave your existence up to chance.


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