Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure

For some reason, as I was driving the other day, I got to thinking about free will versus predestination. I don't know why this popped into my head. My mind was wandering all over the place, trying to reconcile the two, if that were possible. Because I've always felt like certain things in my life were predestined: having my mom for my mom, meeting and marrying Brett, etc. I've always *wanted* certain things to be predestined. I even want to believe some of the bad things in my life were predestined, because it makes them feel easier to bear. Like losing Madison. Or Jefferson having Tourette's. Or even my own struggles with anxiety and food. Being able to believe those things were predetermined and happened for a reason makes me a little less crazy about them. But just a little. I want to feel like some things are predestined because, perhaps oddly, it makes me feel safer and more loved.

On the other hand, of course, I'm a believer in free will. I want to believe it was my choice to choose the colleges I attended, the men I had crushes on, the places I've lived. Plus, with the number of decisions we make every day, it's hard for me to fathom that we would have no true choice in them. I also have a hard time understanding how some horrible things would be predestined and that Whoever predestined them would feel they were O.K. Like child abuse, murder, or even "milder" things like car accidents and natural disasters. I want to believe that when I choose what feels like the Right Path, that I've had some actual say in the matter and that it makes a difference (in my character, to others) whether I tell the truth or lie, whether I work hard or cheat and steal, whether I strive to be the best parent I can be or just say, "What the heck, they'll turn out like they'll turn out."

So I struggle with this often - craving the security that comes with believing certain parts of my life were (and are) predestined, but also wanting to believe other parts came about because of the choices I've made. I can't imagine not finding Brett. But if I hadn't come to the University of Virginia, I don't think it would have happened. How could it have? I feel like it was my choice to move east, and that's what led me to him. A mixture of fate and choice? On the other hand, I applied to 6 grad schools, all over the country, and only got into 1 - University of Virginia. None of my professors could understand how I only made it into one. And since I hadn't gotten any funding from UVa, I figured I'd wait a year, work in Iowa, and reapply the next year. I remember saying to a friend something like, "Well, if I were supposed to go to Virginia, I would have gotten a scholarship, but I didn't, so I guess I'm not supposed to go." The next day, Tom Noble (my future advisor and medieval professor at UVa) called me and told me they had a fellowship for me. My roommates all hooted and hollered and said it must be fate. Was it? Was it fate that my parents moved to Virginia my senior year in college and encouraged me to apply to UVa - a school I certainly wouldn't have considered had they stayed in Iowa. All those things - my parents moving, being rejected by 5 other grad departments, and getting a phone call about a fellowship the day after I said I'd only go if money came with it? Fate? Coincidence?

Not only that, but in my final year of undergrad, I got interested in Elvis Presley. Who would have thought that would be me? Me? An Elvis fan? Especially 25 years after the guy had died? But I did - so much so that when I was teaching myself HTML and wanted a subject around which to build a web page, I chose Elvis. And crafted a huge website about Elvis that actually became fairly well-known (in the Elvis world, at least)... and which ultimately led me to Brett, who himself was an Elvis fan. So even if I had come to UVa, if I hadn't taught myself web design or been interested in Elvis, would I have crossed paths with Brett? Doubtful. It feels like fate to me. But the decision to come east, to learn HTML and to fall in love with the King feel like free will choices.

How to reconcile that? I know there are many out there who would argue (correctly) that my logic is flawed and irrational. But to me, fate and choice blend together every day.

Finally, at a red light, it came to me. Maybe God has designed our lives like a Choose Your Own Adventure book. You know, the ones you read as a kid, where you got to a certain part of the story and had to choose what came next. As in, "Do you stay in Iowa? Turn to page 142. Do you move to Virginia? Go to page 37." See, you still have a choice. You still determine how the story turns out. But the stories have already been written.

I like this idea. I don't know if it's remotely true, but I like it. I don't know if it fits anyone's theological belief system. But it fits mine. And right now, I'm going to choose to go give my soul mate a big old squishy hug. Of my own free will.


  1. Aren't you at a crossroads then? Another choice to be had? You have so many talents, gifts, and abilities...perhaps it's time to look into yourself and decide what will come next for you. Your success is guaranteed, that part is already written. It's up to you to go down the path of your choice, wherever your passions and gifts meet and wherever they are taking you now. Go for it!

  2. WOW...I don't know who "anonymous" is up there...but they are really smart! :-) and really RIGHT! Rock on toward your predestined decision!