Would it be fair to say that we all have good days and bad days? Surely the odds dictate that, to quote the song, into each life a little rain must fall. Nobody walks through life without getting at least a little wet. Nobody spends every single day basking in the glories of Creation (well, some do, but that’s a topic for somebody else’s blog). Perhaps I shouldn’t stop at days. Good and bad months? Good and bad years? Oh, what the hell, let’s go the whole hog – good and bad lifetimes! Or is that pushing the bounds of credibility? “No one can have a bad lifetime” I hear you protest. I’m not so sure. Fate can deal out pretty cruel hands. If you believe in that sort of thing.
To be born a woman in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. To grow up Jewish in Europe in the interwar years. To be an unwed mother in mid-20th century Ireland. A lot of potential for bad lifetimes there. Other places and people come to mind. Rwanda, Cambodia, South Africa, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Chile. Less obvious candidates too – America, England, France, Australia. But really it could be any place and any person, right?
Fate. What does that mean to you? That it was meant to be? Women being stoned and whipped and raped in Afghanistan? It was meant to be. The rise of Hitler and the attempted systematic eradication of an entire people? It was meant to be. The toxic hypocrisy of the Catholic Church infecting a society so thoroughly that compassion and justice ceased to exist for its most vulnerable members? It was meant to be.
Was it meant to be? Really? I don’t think so. Is anything meant to be? I suppose if we let ourselves be ruled by our fear and cowardice then any number of things will qualify for the ‘meant to be’ category. Fear and cowardice allow silence and inaction to become a code for survival. It admits entry to your daily lexicon the gamut of disingenuous phrases: I had no idea. I really didn’t know. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. I never knew them that well. I don’t understand politics.
That’s not my copy of ‘ Mein Kampf ‘, the plumber brought it. Think about it for a moment. An awful lot of people have had an awful lot of bad days because other people were determined that their good days would continue unabated. They didn’t want the hassle.
So fate needs to be qualified. Different people can expect different fates. If you are born into a world where you are considered ‘worth the hassle’ then there’s a good chance Fate will shine on you with a certain benignity. Your path will remain unobstructed by life’s more popular deprivations that your opposite number will be enduring. They, by being deemed ‘not worth the hassle’ will not have to worry about things like education, freedom of religious choice and sexual orientation, freedom of speech, safety from institutionalised gender bigotry and sexual violence and more mundane but no less essential items like housing, water (for sanitation and consumption), clothing and food. But don’t worry about it – it’s Fate. It was meant to be.
I reject that. I don’t think in terms of Fate. I think in terms of control. I believe there is no end to the things we cannot control. I accept that but I try to not let it make me complacent. When I think ‘bigger picture’ and attempt to foresee my future life I instinctively leave vast areas of the canvas blank because I feel there are very few tangible throughlines I can control. I invest in the idea that if my better self can hold sway then a certain trajectory can be maintained. That trajectory is in essence about values. So it will be different for everyone. But you will fix your compass and set sail based on the routes, maps and charts that other sailors have used before you. Unless you are yourself a navigator, an explorer, a pioneer?
I don’t presume any of those titles for myself because I doubt very much whether my aspirations are in any way original or groundbreaking. A bit of love and respect would be nice. I’m not too concerned about dignity because the yahoo in me needs an airing every now and then. But integrity is the challenge. For me, it is the key. Integral, central, core. It is who you are. It is your comfort with yourself. It is how much of yourself you are willing to present to the world. It is a strength that allows you to be weak. To be afraid. To be ignorant. It enables you to continue in spite of those states, in spite of the improbability of ever being whole. To return to the nautical theme, integrity is the ship in which you navigate life’s unknown waters. The good ship Integrity, come on board!
That probably sounds a bit grandiose and pompous. I think it’s the opposite. It’s not about vanity or sanctimony. It’s not about status. It’s about earth. It’s about being connected to something solid, something central. Is not the ground you stand on part of the planet that is shared by every other human in existence? What makes your piece of ground more special than theirs? Why would you even think yours was any better? Earth is what connects us all. Perhaps integrity is not forgetting that. Perhaps it is acknowledging that you are no more nor no less deserving than anybody else.
I referred above to ‘my better self’. I suspect most of us recognise a version of ourselves that we consider optimal. That self is one that is not troubled by the demons of self-doubt or self-loathing. It is blithe and confident, capable and unafraid. Maybe it is that self that greets the world on our good days. On those days, no impediment is too great, no obstacle insurmountable, no naysayer triumphant. And wouldn’t life be so much easier if that was always the case? If our best selves left the house each morning and returned intact that night?Well, yes, as long as we don’t ignore the necessity and beneficial nature of adversity. Adversity is not the issue. Adversity teaches us tenacity just as fear can teach us courage. We will never learn our strengths and weaknesses if we are never challenged.
In the days of kings and subjects a herald would announce the imminent arrival of the monarch and demand the way be cleared so as not to delay the royal procession. Belief in the Great Chain of Being, a sort of human food chain, dictated the role you would occupy in life. It would sort out very early on what was meant to be. You either were the king, or you were not. If the latter, you made way and the king’s serene progress would ensue. And that’s all there was to it. There was no movement up and down the scale. You had your slot and you stayed there. But what if, like a king, there were no obstacles in your way? Which self would reign?
What would a person amount to if they incurred no deterrents throughout their life? Where would they get to if their core self was unimpinged, unscarred? I’m not talking about having a free ride or being born with a silver spoon in their mouth (although I don’t think that’s as posh as the saying suggests…). I’m talking about an untrammelled soul. If you think of your own psychic scars – the moments that have put a slight (or otherwise) buckle in your wheel – and the way they have shaped you as a person and the way they may continue to inform the decisions you make in life, can you imagine yourself in an alternate universe where you’re not carrying any of that baggage? Maybe that’s a game worth playing on occasion to see if you can access a better you. Or just a you that you like more. Or dislike less.
If you catch a glimpse of that self it then becomes a matter of faith. Do you believe that person can exist? Do you believe that they can reign? That’s not about Fate. That’s something you can control. You open a door and invite them in. Then the good days might come along a bit more frequently.
Trammelled or untrammelled? What are you not going to let stop you today?