The Trouble With Fate
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By Marc Porter Zasada
The Urban Man does not believe in fate. I know we are not pursued by destiny. Like any good citizen of the industrial economy, I know it's up to us to pursue destiny ourselves -- relentlessly if we wish -- down along the cluttered boulevards of the modern city.
Still, I'm aware of the contrary opinion. I'm aware some people believe that fate maneuvres the little incidents of daily life to teach us lessons and lead us where it will. You know: The misplaced Fedex. The car that won't start.
Many think heaven intervenes regularly, even here in the megalopolis.
For example, there's the question of Mimi Feigelson's knees. Maybe you know Mimi. She teaches theology at the Ziegler School for Rabbis here in L.A., and she has a remarkable and finely-tuned mind. She reads the sages. She discusses fate in Hebrew.
The other day the Urban Man was strolling along Pico, chatting with Mimi about life, the universe and everything -- when, all of a sudden, she mentions the car accident she had last fall, and how her knees still hurt her mightily. She ignores the frenzied boulevard, where sunlight richochets off the Mercedes of lawyers and the pickup trucks of gardeners, and she says, "I'm still trying to figure out what it means."
"What what means?" I ask a little aggressively. "The injury to your knees?"
"Yes," says Mimi. "What is G-d trying to tell me about standing on my feet, about walking along my way? What am I supposed to learn from this?"
And the Urban Man, representing for a moment the chaos of the city itself, replies, "Maybe you're not supposed to learn anything. Maybe G-d isn't trying to tell you anything. I mean, stuff happens here."
It's a little rude, but Mimi smiles. She says, "I spend all day telling people there's meaning in our daily lives -- I'm not going to give that up so easily." Out in the street, brakes squeal, pedestrians dodge smackdowns, blackberries beep with bad news, and I think: Once upon a time, maybe, heaven could keep up with human life. The crops would fail -- or not. The plagues would come -- or not. And the average person had say three or four really fateful events in a lifetime.
But nowadays, how could heaven handle the volume? I mean: Instant messaging? Derivative stocks? The 5,000 moving parts of every moment? If my phone dies in the middle of a deal, is that fate trying to redirect my life? Surely, like the people who stand all day at slot machines in Vegas, we should not believe every jingle of the coins, every flash of the lights, and every pull on the handle means something.
I give this speech to Mimi, and I say again: "Stuff just happens."
But she offers no reply, only a last, parting grin as she heads slowly across Pico, protecting her knees.
And I think, "Score one for the Urban Man."
Now four days go by, and I find myself riding a ski lift on a beautiful day in Wrightwood. It's sunny and I'm pretty cheerful about playing hooky from work -- but up ahead I notice a cloud has settled on the top of the mountain, and when I ski off, it's so misty I can't see more than eight feet ahead.
Snowboarders fly out of the gloom like ghosts.
I try to be careful, but suddenly, yes, through no fault of my own, my right ski catches on an unseen crust and as I fall, I feel my knee get torqued with a sharp twist of pain.
For a while I just sit there in the snow, thinking of Mimi. I mean the irony is substantial and incontrovertible. Knee for knee, here's direct evidence that there's more to chaos than meets the eye.
Sure enough, next day, wearing a brace, I call Professor Feigelson and discover that her own knees have been feeling much better. I have to report she was gracious and sympathetic, and carefully said nothing whatsoever about fate.
Copyright -- 2006 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
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