5/18/11

Meant To Be

When something good or serendipitous happens in life, we tend to say, "It was meant to be." Conversely, there are those who use the same phrase when the unexpected, even tragic, happens. For the last few weeks the Mississippi River has been rising at record levels, swallowing lowlands in its path from Illinois to Louisiana. People whose livelihoods are drowning along with their land and homes are heard on the evening news commenting that these losses are "meant to be."

Lately I have been thinking about "meant to be." What things in my life have I punctuated with this conclusion? No doubt plenty. So why does the phrase leave me feeling conflicted? If I'm honest, I think it's dishonest because it suggests that fate, rather than the terrifying randomness of life, is to blame or thank for what happens.

There are three schools.

The first school holds that we are part of a larger story which has been written in its entirety and as such, is unalterable. We are destined to live our lives and accept what life brings by way of blessings and loss with no other rationale than what happens is "meant to be."

The second school suggests that we write our story entirely and that everything we do, experience, lose, and gain comes from us. If I get sick, I willed or invited illness. If I wish to be well, I can will that into existence. All things are "meant to be" inasmuch as I bend the cosmos to my will.

The third school maintains there is an interplay between destiny and free will. We are part of a larger story which cannot be altered. For example, I am a human being on planet Earth with no real ability to transport myself in this "reality" to another existence. That part is "destiny," directed by a force we call by some metaphysical name. Having accepted that there are some inalterable certainties, the third school says we have free will to choose our ultimate destiny. In other words, I can claim that something (even a bad something) is "meant to be" without feeling betrayed by God, the Universe or my own shortsighted optimism.

I hesitate to get too drawn into which school is correct because no one really knows, or at least I don't. And there are many rabbit holes us philosophical types can fall into that land us in strange places where everything is possible but nothing really happens.

I have concluded that "meant to be" is a pocket change response. By that I mean, it's a phrase we keep as emotional spare change. It doesn't require us to dig too deep but it has it's useful purpose. It's what we jangle to make sure we have enough spare change to keep life from bankrupting our hearts. We use this change as toll when we cross the bridge where the bully troll threatens to eat us for lunch as we travel over. We use it to toss into the fountain of life when we want our wishes to come true. We use it as an offering in order to demonstrate our humility and thankfulness for not being "less fortunate" than those who have fallen on hard times or for whom hard times are a way of life.

There are other pocket change responses which are equally useful: It's God's will, It can't be helped, All good things must come to an end, I'm sure he did something to deserve it, What goes around comes around....in fact, when I think about it, one could fill a small book with them.

It strikes me that these phrases serve another purpose as well. When I watch the evening news and I hear someone who just lost all they own and more say "It was meant to be," I have permission not to dig too deeply. Rather than wrestle with the unfairness of it all, the intolerable anxiousness of not knowing if the next flood or earthquake will take me and mine, I can have faith in the odds. The lioness takes a single wildebeest from the heard but the heard escapes and eventually forgets the loss - chalking it up to "meant to be" with some old sage in the back who lost his best friend to the lioness and senses his own impending doom adding, "I guess her number was up."

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