PERSONAL FILE: Finding Port in a Sea of Possibilities

I don’t believe in Fate. I think it’s intellectually lazy at best and, at worst, scorn-befitting doltery. Don’t be so quick to yourself dismiss it either as many hold fatalistic worldviews without even realizing it. Many will talk of “finding their path,” as though there were only one to find. Others will speak of life events–like finding and losing love, unexpected illness or death, fortunes won and lost–as “the Lord’s Will,” as though we’re mere unwitting actors in a divine soap opera. Granted, so much about life is beyond our ability to control: things like where and in what era of history we’re born; the conditions of our birth and our genetic heritage; endlessly variable economic, geologic, geopolitical, and sociocultural factors; etc., etc. We are, nonetheless, autonomous creatures who possess a unique combination of self-awareness, intelligence, and free will so as to be able to make decisions that can forever alter the course of life–for ourselves and those around us, for better and for worse.

Ultimately, I think, fatalistic worldviews are rooted in people’s hesitance–or unwillingness–to assume responsibility for their actions. If everything in life is the Will of whatever God you happen to believe in (or, for the non-deistic, some as-of-yet-undetermined Force), that then absolves you of a great deal of responsibility. If everything is fated, or willed by some One, then what’s left for us to do other than flow along in the current? I am, of course, a Christian, an Orthodox one–the Nicene Creed (sans filioque) is a succinct summation of my faith. As an outgrowth of my Christianity, I also believe that God is, when understood correctly, fundamentally good, that he is intimately involved in the workings of his created order and wants the best for all of his creatures. While few would posit that men are drones little able to affect their cosmic lots (unless they’re Calvinist), it’s easy to slip into seeing life as a sort of maze and people as guinea pigs. In that case, we’d obviously have the ability to make a wrong turn but if we ever hoped to get out, we’d have to find the correct path and follow it to the end. Obviously, I think that’s crap, and for reasons which should, by now, be equally obvious.

If you’re among the small but dedicated number of people who read the stuff I write, you might recall the post in the Personal File from May 8 of this year, in which I wrote about my feelings of excitement and uncertainty since graduating from college just a few days before. At the very end of it, I wrote, “I wish I had something really profound to say at this point, but there’s no use in pretending I do. I just know that one day I’m going to rediscover this post and laugh at myself.” I’m pleased to inform everyone that my prediction was indeed correct. Before you ask, no, I can’t teach you to be prescient. Sorry. Anyway, I did remember writing those words and I did have a good five-second chuckle, mainly because I found my thinly-veiled naïveté amusing. How was I naïve? Well, let’s pick up where that post left off…

After my last ditch efforts to nail down at least a temporary job and/or place to stay in Tulsa pending longer-term employment had failed, a strategic retreat to the motherland (that is, my family’s ranch) in southeastern Oklahoma was my only option. Bear in mind, the only reason this self-imposed triage didn’t send me into a panic was because, in my mind, it couldn’t possibly take any longer than a few weeks to find a job. After all, I’ve got a bad-ass Bachelor’s degree and a bad-ass résumé with bad-ass work experience. I graduated with Honors and a picture of me in cap-and-gown and a toothy-grin holding an as-of-then empty degree folder in front of the American flag.

Yeah. Somewhere, lots of professorial old white men in suits got a hearty laugh out of that one…

“And then I said to the kid, ‘Of course acing my classes makes landing a job a cinch!'”

Fortunately for me, I’m extremely adaptable and capable of adjusting plans (or pulling them out of my ass) if and when necessary. I recognized very quickly that, contrary to what seemed to have been repeatedly insinuated throughout my career as a full-time student, one can follow all the rules and still have things not work out as they should. I was helped by the fact that my post-college expectations were much more realistic by comparison, but I’m not sure the modern academic establishment does enough to prepare graduates for the type of world they’ll be entering. Oh hell, I’m more than just “not sure,” I’m absolutely certain. Great GPAs, enriching extracurricular activities, challenging leadership positions, and learning-based work experience are all extremely valuable, but don’t delude yourself into thinking they earn you the job you want. It wasn’t that hard of a fall for me, but it definitely is for some.

After a long and fruitless search in which I lost count of the number of résumés I sent out, cold calls I made, applications I submitted, and cover letters I wrote, there came a moment when it looked like everything was going to work out: I applied for a job with an organization where many family members work, the position was right up my alley with great pay and benefits, and I had a compelling list of qualifications and experiences that more than prepared me for the job. What’s more, I came with a sterling recommendation from a retired director of the organization and had virtual assurance from the hiring manager that the position would be mine. No matter. Internal politics intervened and the job went to someone else.

Frustrating as all of this was, I actually never once deviated from my long-term plan and, in the end, everything went according to it. At the beginning of this year, before I’d graduated, the plan I devised was simple: I wanted to go abroad, but I also wanted to do my due diligence and look for a job here first; so, after graduation, I’d spend six months thence looking for one and if I didn’t fine one, then I’d go abroad. Simple, concise, and with clear triggers. Truth be told, I thought I’d be more disappointed when I got the call saying the job had gone to someone else–in reality, I was disappointed for all of about five minutes. Then I thought, “Hells yeah! I’m going abroad!”

Long story short, I did get a job, and fairly quickly. Beginning in February of next year, I’ll join the teaching staff of an English camp near the city of Daegu in South Korea. I’m not without flaws, but one personality trait for which I’m very grateful is that I’m very decisive and am able to make big decisions like this fairly quickly. I don’t agonize, I don’t wobble, and I typically don’t change my mind. Maybe that comes from my dislike of fickle people, or maybe I frown on fickleness because I’m so decisive. I guess that’s a bit like asking whether the chicken or the egg came first. Anyway, this will mark at least the fourth time in my life when I’ll be able to say, “If you’d told me I’d be _______ one year ago, I’d have laughed in your face!”

What will be home for at least the next year.

What will be home for at least the next year.

Despite my mom and grandmother repeatedly drilling into me the mantra “Be careful” when I was young, there are very few things I fear (and most of them are silly, like the dark and large lizards). The idea of taking off to the other side of the world stirs my soul like a breath of wind makes embers glow. At this point, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

I took such a long time at the beginning of this post trashing fatalism because I don’t in any way want to seem as though I’m rationalizing, spiritually or otherwise, the events and decisions of the past several months. I’m not falling back on, “Well, this must be what the Lord wanted for me because nothing else worked out.” That kind of talk is ridiculous as far as I’m concerned; any number of the jobs I applied for over the summer could have worked out and the fact that none of them did is mostly the result of a sucky economy.

During one of my college classes, the professor took a significant portion of a class period to rebut the idea that there is a “the One” chosen by God for every person looking for a mate. In Genesis, when God confronts Adam and his wife after they’ve eaten of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he asks Adam if he had indeed eaten from it. Adam responds, “‘The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate'” [emphasis mine]. By this professor’s reasoning, that was the last time God explicitly chose a mate for anyone, since he wasn’t interested in being blamed if the relationship went awry. Adam and Eve weren’t real people of course, but you get the picture. I think God does bless and do good things for those who love him, as Scripture says he does, but within the context of the decisions we make. In other words, God doesn’t micro-manage our lives because he’s not interested in being the object of blame when everything goes to shit, which could be be the result of poor decisions on our part or just the inevitable result of living in an unpredictable world.

One of my most cherished prayers is the Prayer of the Breton Fisherman. Several versions exist, but my favorite is the one inscribed on a plaque that John F. Kennedy kept on his White House desk: “O God, thy sea is so great, and my boat is so small.” That, to me, is one of the most honest prayers a man can pray. It’s a grave acknowledgement, with an explicit request for traveling mercies not even necessary. In contemporary language, it would read, “Hey God, you’ve made a really big ocean–I’m not sure my boat won’t sink on it.” The “Be with me, okay?” part is pretty much understood.

The fisherman’s prayer is itself taken from a longer poem. Although its author has since been forgotten, his words come eloquently close to striking the right balance between Fate and free will, between our own autonomy and the fact that we are forever at the mercy of forces beyond our control:

Thy sea, O God, so great,
My boat so small,
It cannot be that any happy fate,
Will me befall,
Save as Thy goodness opens paths for me,
Through the consuming vastness of the sea.

Thy winds, O God, so strong,
So slight my sail.
How could I cub and bit them on the long
and salty trail,
Unless Thy love were mightier than the wrath
Of all the tempests that beset my path?

Thy world, O God, so fierce,
And I so frail.
Yet, though its arrows threaten oft to pierce
My fragile mail,
Cities of refuge rise where dangers cease,
Sweet silences abound, and all is peace.

5 thoughts on “PERSONAL FILE: Finding Port in a Sea of Possibilities

  1. Pingback: DIRTY LITTLE FREAKS: Story Arcs of 2013, Part Un | Roygeneable

  2. Pingback: PERSONAL FILE: When We’re All Where We Belong | Roygeneable

  3. Pingback: THE KOREA KRONICLES: Dog Days Are Over | Roygeneable

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