For Want Of A Nail: On Choices, Chance And Circumstance

2010 March 29

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

We are different people at different points in our lives and the relationships we form in those periods might not have been forged under other circumstances.  The You you are are today isn’t the You you were during rush week in 2001 or on the first day of work in 2005 or three weeks after a break-up in March of 2009. And I’m not talking about maturing or all of that older and wiser jazz, simply that the way that you treated the world and the way that you let it treat you in these very different circumstances wasn’t the same in each case and isn’t the same as you would do and be done unto today or six months from now.

Photo by quas

I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately.  I’ve been thinking about the stories and explanations we create for ourselves in order to assign a meaning other than random chance, dumb luck, a flat tire. Stories we spin that make it seem as if things were meant to be (or weren’t), that provide the logic, the reason and the narrative we need to make sense of exactly where we’re standing right now instead of chalking it up to the intersection of circumstances and capricious or deliberate choices we made in the moment. Where’s the cinematic drama in that?

If she hadn’t stopped by your cube to borrow your stapler and you hadn’t been eager to make a good impression on your new coworkers instead of  simply smiling and returning to your papers as you’d do once the newness of the job wore off,  then you wouldn’t have struck up that  conversation about American Idol and discovered that you both suffered from mortification by proxy for all of those hopeless contestants and your enduring friendship wouldn’t have been cemented over the fact that you both knew all the words to Free Love Freeway from The Office and can’t even think about Ricky Gervais trying to dance without wanting to throw up.

Or if you had been angry at the world that day because you spilled red wine on your favorite tie and weren’t  in the mood to socialize or she had been suffering from a killer head cold and had opted to skip the party to stay home and rewatch Love, Actually for the 12th time, you wouldn’t be sitting across from each other at Starbucks bickering over whether to cap the wedding guest list at 100 or 150 right now. But you call each other The One and you never stop to think about how terribly convenient it is that your One happens to live in the same city of 300 000 people and happened to be attending that same Christmas shindig as a favor to your former college roommate. I mean, really, the world contains six billion people, how nice for the universe not to give you a soulmate who is currently harvesting rice in Cambodia and with whom you couldn’t even communicate in a common language. Don’t ever say the cosmos never did anything for you, kiddo.

I kid, but the underlying point is valid. We’re variable just as much as the circumstances are and who we are and how we are in the world at a particular period in our lives shapes the content of our lives in that period and the nature of our interactions with others. We’re braver, more reticent, open to adventure, fed up with humanity and its BS, lonely, brimming with confidence, etc., etc. And while we’re cycling through our ups, downs, in and outs,  stuff is happening around us all the time. All the time. People and opportunities and tangents and possibilities for hilarity, heartbreak and world domination are marching past us or bubbling below the surface and what’s going on in our heads and our lives dictates whether we notice  and if so, what we notice and what we do about it. Thinking about this is rather mind-boggling, isn’t it? The point isn’t to overwhelm you with the pressure to capitalize on the thousand tiny micro chances that fill every day, but to encourage you to acknowledge that what seems right right now might not have seemed right six months ago or might not seem right two years from now and to cut yourself some slack for having waited so long to finally go back to school or start doing the legwork to launch your own business even if these plans had been in the back of your mind forever*. We make our choices and take our actions in context and we need to keep this in mind when reading the tea leaves of our own pasts. Sometimes (more often than we feel comfortable admitting), it really does come down to timing – ours and the rest of the world’s.

* Not to say that I don’t advocate the carpe diem approach, but I also advocate the no sense crying over spilled milk one as well.

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