How did I get here??
How many times have you asked yourself this question? I suppose it could be a sign that I’m getting older, this propensity to marvel at the zigzaggy unexpected path my life has taken thus far. More time has passed for me to do things, accomplish things, make mistakes, zigzag. Most of the time when I think about my life and how I got here, I think of conscious decisions. I think of the things I have chosen. And occasionally I remember the paths I decided were best not to take.
But in the back of my mind, there is a little voice that whispers French. Remember French.
You see, I live with a weird truth that my life as I know it now has been largely determined by my decision in middle school to take French rather than Spanish as my foreign language.I remember it being a big decision even at the time. I lived in south Florida, and it made much more sense to take Spanish. But for some reason I had romantic perceptions about France and so the practical side of me tugged at my imaginative/impractical side and (lucky for me, it turns out!) I let the impractical fantasy-prone side win. (Or maybe I was suffering from Paris Syndrome, a real disorder…oh wait it most commonly affects the Japanese…never mind…)
So from seventh grade onward, I sat in French class instead of Spanish class. And it was in a French class during freshman year at the University of Florida that I met one of my best college friends who I ended up living with for the next three years and whose friendship pretty much determined my entire university social life. And then a few years after that, in a French summer school class in Paris, I met the man I later married, who was British which meant we moved from the US to the UK. And that man in my French class also gave me my two beautiful children.
I think about French and what a random decision it was and all the things it has determined in my life… it’s kinda freaky.
And then there is other stuff. The fact that I wound up with a Ph.D. in South Asian literature, because my undergraduate Russian professor had told me there weren’t many jobs in Russian history (what I thought I wanted to do). Then after I moved to Cambridge for my husband’s post-uni job, I remembered enjoying a class on Indian religions and thought I’d focus on India. And the only professor at Cambridge who responded to my emails sent me to the ‘Oriental Studies’ faculty when he heard I was interested in studying language as well, and there I met my supervisor who happened to focus on South Asian literature…and many years later I found I had traded history for literature and could speak some Hindi…
But then I bet you have these kind of stories too. One random event leads to another, one chance meeting comes to define a period in your life. It happens all the time. It happens more than we remember. More than we’d like to think.
There is a Buddhist story about this randomness. It is about a poor farmer who only has one horse and one day that horse runs away. Terrible, his friends say. What terrible luck. But then the horse comes back leading a herd of wild horses. Wonderful, his friends say. What wonderful luck. But then one of the horses kicks the farmer’s only son, breaking his leg. Terrible, his friends say. What terrible luck. But then a war comes and because the farmer’s son is partially lame he is spared from going to war…
Or maybe it was Gandalf who said it best:It’s comforting to feel like we are in control of our lives. And we are. A bit. But there is also the great power of randomness. And the lesson I’m going to take from it is this: sometimes I shouldn’t worry so much because the stuff random life events bring often far outweigh the things we choose. After all, one of the most random events in my life has been the birth of my two children…how did I get these specific little beings, out of all the little children I might have had?! And they are pretty damn special. So if things aren’t going according to plan, if a big decision didn’t pan out like I’d hoped, maybe it’s okay not to worry so much. After all, even the very wise can not see all ends…
In the spirit of revelling in randomness, share! What random event has most shaped your life?