By Catherine DiMercurio
Sometimes life forces you to think about it in a very philosophical, free-will-versus-fate sort of way.
When you get divorced, one of the most dislocating, wrenching things you go through is watching the future you had imagined for yourself with your partner being erased. You try to make new plans, but things still seem hazy, at least for a while. You do begin to get your world back in order little by little, though, and you start to think about what life might look like after the children leave for college. And if you date, and if a few dates turn into a relationship, you cautiously begin to imagine your future with someone else. But sometimes these plans too go awry, and the relationship reveals itself to be something other than what you thought it was.
When the Future is Foggy
This is where I find myself. The future – however tentatively imagined – once again gradually evaporating like fog as the day warms up and the sun burns it off. At least that is how I have been feeling for the past couple of weeks. But as I sit here watching the fog burn off, I am slowly starting to realize that it wasn’t the future, it was a future, one of many possible futures that could have been made reality. I suppose it all comes down to that philosophical fate versus free will debate. Is our future already written, and all the things we do, the relationships we have, are simply events leading us to a future that was “meant to be,” either in a faith-based sense or in a fairy-tale way?
It seems to me the designation “meant to be,” or the converse construct, “not meant to be,” is where we land at the end of a series of decisions whose consequences we can’t make sense of in any other way. But I’m not buying it.
I think we have a little more control and responsibility than that. In a way, the idea of control is an illusion. You can’t control much of what happens to you in life—the economy, natural disasters, the choices that other people in your life make, etc.—you can only control how you respond to all these things. But we do have control over our own choices, and a responsibility—our mission, should we choose to accept it—to be conscious of those choices, and to learn and grow in response to the consequences of those choices.
And though we have little or no control over the choices of others or random events that wreak havoc in our lives, we can plan for the future. We can decide what we want to see there after the fog lifts. I sort of have to. I’ve learned that I need goals and dreams, something to work toward and something to look forward to, whether or not someone is sharing that journey with me. Whether the events that have led me to this point are random or willed by cosmic forces, whether I have a little control or even less than that, I still find myself searching through the fog, looking for the constants within me, knowing that everything else is an external variable that can and will change.
Searching for the Constants in the Midst of Change
For me one of those constants is, in a way, a variable—it is growth, a desire for growth and openness that yields a range of constantly varying results. And encapsulated in this reaching outward is a search for connection. It is why I write—it is not only about my search for connection, but it is also an offering, a hope that others may similarly locate something that feels like a balm to the isolation that so many of us often experience. And I know that in the future, that is always the direction I want to be moving in, toward connection, and finding familiar, common ground with others. I have other, more concrete dreams for the future as well, like someday owning a cottage up north, and I think having something like that to work toward is as important, though maybe not as important as knowing who I am, and learning more about myself as life and love and years work their magic and shape me.
Micro Choices and Micro Changes
This might be all the sense I can make of things today, all the sorting through sadness and choices and consequences I can do for right now. But I’ll leave you with these final thoughts on choice and control. People often speak of changing the world, of what they can do to make it better, and many have noble, lofty goals in this regard, which are admirable and inspiring. I tend to think of things on a micro level, rather than a macro level. We all change the world in our own way, every day, whether we are conscious of it or not. It is in how we handle conflict with people we love—do we act on an instinct to rage or an inclination to resolve? It is in how we speak to the stranger standing across from us ringing up our groceries. It is in how we handle interactions with coworkers, with friends, with strangers, with animals. It is in the thousands of choices we make every day. My aim is to be conscious of as many of these choices as I can, of the way word and manner and energy and action impact the world, and shape it, hopefully for the better, little by little.