The Hand of Fate
Hands up, those who believe in fate.
Is our destiny pre-determined from the moment we’re placed into the womb, cells furiously multiplying to form an embryo, a foetus, a baby? Or our are lives made up of a series of coincidences and circumstance that are far from mapped out? As I get older it’s something that I think about on and off. I do think luck plays a large part in all of this. It’s a roll of the dice that determines what genes we’re given, the family and people that surround us. But then, some of what happens in our lives is up to us.
What, for instance, would’ve happened if I had listened to the daughter of a friend of the family who had left school at 16, and happily tripped through life in a haze of drugs, cigarettes and booze, who told me school wasn’t cool and getting A’s and Oxbridge weren’t all that? On that occasion, the fear of not getting out of the small town where I grew up outweighed the coolness of the older friend (as well as the wrath of my parents and my general squareness.) And had I taken to heart my ex’s “curse” that every woman he had broken up with went on to lead miserable lives, I would never have got out of bed.
And then there’s the case of five young people that I know. Two are girls – sisters – 18 and 16; they are first cousins to three boys (brothers, ranging 16-26 in age.) The girls’ parents work hard to ensure they provide the very best for their children. They don’t have much money but every penny they earn goes towards ensuring that the children have a good education and have all the opportunities they never had. Both girls are studying furiously for their A-Levels and GCSEs, respectively. The older daughter has a conditional offer at Kings College, London and they’re both driven by ambition and a desire to prove themselves to their teachers at their inner city state school.
It’s a very different story for their cousins. The oldest boy was lucky enough to go to a performing arts school in the US. Supposedly, he had a glittering acting career ahead of him, but now he’s back in the UK because he cannot stay there without a visa or work permit. He’s currently out of work and laden with student debt. His two younger brothers have dropped out of school without any GCSEs and their main aspiration is to be famous. They’re pinning their hopes that their older brother gets a Green Card, enabling them to go out to the US and live with him and … become famous. Their mum encourages this. She lives in some kind of whimsical world where everything should be handed to you on a plate. She has had good jobs but ends up getting fired or leaving within a period of months because, she says, she’s fed up. One moment she’s buying a car, flies off on holiday, the next moment she complains she has no money and asks for loans from her employers. She jumps without looking, flitting from one calamity to the next. One of her sons tried to commit suicide and was diagnosed with depression and body dysmorphic disorder – yet she went on with her life as though her son’s fragile mental health could be easily treated. I hope it’s not over for her boys, that somehow they’ll see the light, make something of themselves rather than loafing around playing video games and watching TV – that this life they’ve got isn’t the sum total of their fate.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t a rant about what’s wrong with life. I write this as a way of dealing with what’s happened over the last few days. My uncle passed away at the beginning of the week. He’d led an amazing life, rubbed shoulders with the great and the good, and was someone we all looked up to. He was in his 80’s, he was very sick and we knew that at some point, his time would come. We celebrated his life when it came to an end. What we didn’t know was that our cousin, travelling back from our uncle’s funeral in the evening of 12th May on the Amtrak train from Washington DC to New York, would be one of the seven victims when the train derailed in Philadelphia at 9.21p.m.. He was in the prime of his life, full of energy, enthusiasm, with a wicked sense of humour. He was a loving husband, a father, a brother and a son. Was it his fate that he was never going to make it to New York? Did he sense something may happen, did he hesitate before setting foot on that train?
I take for granted that it’s a feat to live to a ripe old age, to be able to look back on your life and say, ‘I did good’. I don’t want to waste each day that I have, I don’t want to rue every disappointment that comes my way, because in the grand scheme of things they’re insignificant. It may be said too many times, but life is just too short.
So I’m posting this blog in memory of my uncle, Shahid Hussain, my cousin, Abid Gilani and the six other victims who perished with him on that train, to the hundreds who died in the recent earthquakes in Nepal. And I write this so that we all celebrate what we have, that we don’t beat ourselves up and don’t beat up on others. That we’re generous, loving and work hard and do away with bitterness – because we never know when our time will come.
Until next time