Monday, March 9, 2009

Set the Stage

So there I was, sitting at the bar, enjoying what has been a far too rare experience for me: a good blind date.

The girl was cute, the conversation was interesting and she always said “thank you” when the server brought her something. There was definitely potential here.

But just as I began to feel comfortable, out of nowhere, like an annoying SPAM message about “debt consolidation,” the strangest thought popped into head:

“What would happen if I threw my drink in her face?”

What? Where did that come from?

It was as if I was channeling my inner J.D. (Scrubs) with this crazy, random daydream. Luckily, I hadn’t tilted my head and turned my eyes up to the left, so it wasn’t obvious that something outrageous was going through my head.

But as I pulled my hand away from my drink – you know, just to be safe – I gave the question a little more thought. If I were to do it, what would really happen? Would I get slapped? Would I feel bad or laugh hysterically? Could I end up on Youtube?

More importantly, would there be farther-reaching consequences than giving this girl a date story for the ages? I mean, what if she was supposed to be the “one,” and we’d been set up so we could live happily ever after? Would this idiotic, out-of-the-blue decision completely alter my life? Would I be shifting the very course of destiny with a single flick of the wrist?

I realized there was a much bigger issue here, a chicken-or-the-egg question that scholars and theologians have been debating for centuries:

When it comes down to it, how much control do we really have over our lives?

On one hand, we were blessed with free will. Day to day, minute to minute, we are presented with options – Double Cheeseburger, Chicken McNuggets or both – and with each decision we make, we incrementally build our own path.

I know my life is the way it is right now largely due to the choices I’ve made. Nobody forced me to take that job or move to that city…it was all my doing. I sometimes look back and wonder how things might’ve been had I chosen differently. But as hard as it can be to swallow regret, I accept full responsibility for the state of my union.

On the other hand, there’s the idea of destiny: that our lives are pre-determined, and we are essentially living out a completed novel. Guided by a higher power, all we have to do is keep breathing in and out, and everything will unfold the way it’s supposed to.

A few years ago, I was driving through the rain, when suddenly, my car began to hydroplane. Completely out of control, skidding across three lanes of freeway traffic, I waited to either get hit by another car or to slam into the wall. But after the longest five seconds of my life, I found myself positioned perfectly on the shoulder, facing in the opposite direction. A stuntman couldn’t have executed a better parking job.

It was like I’d been encapsulated by a protective bubble, ensuring that not only was there no traffic around me when I began to swerve, but that my car could get to safety. The only way I can explain what happened is that someone was watching over me, and I – nor anyone else – was meant to get hurt.

So where does all of this leave us? Who is really in charge here? Do we decide our fate, or has our story already been written?

Like most things in life, I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

When I was younger, there was a series of books called “Choose Your Own Adventure,” in which you, the reader, assumed the role of the main character. Every so often, you had to decide what you wanted to do next, i.e.: “If you want to go inside the cave, turn to page 10; If you want to head back home, turn to page 13.” The plot then continued for a few pages, where you’d be faced with another choice, and then another, until you’d ultimately reach one of several possible endings.

Well, I think that’s a decent parallel for life. We have the freedom to go where we want to go, to do what we want to do (assuming you’re single), and the decisions we make shape the path our lives take.

But they don’t determine it.

On the 72nd green of the 2008 U.S. Open golf tournament, Tiger Woods faced a 12-foot birdie putt to get into a playoff. He’d ignored his doctor’s orders to not play on the torn ACL and double stress fracture in his left leg – just for the shot at a moment like this.

As he stood over the ball, he could’ve thought about everything that he’d risked by playing – and how senseless that risk would be were he to come up short – or he could’ve tried to force the golf ball into the hole.

Instead, he took a more fatalist approach. He picked his line, he determined how hard he wanted to hit it, and he encouraged himself to make a good stroke. He knew that once he struck the putt – no matter how perfectly executed it was – the outcome was out of his hands.

“Just control what you can control,” he said.

And really, that’s all we can expect of ourselves. We have to do our part – by getting in the game, by doing the work. But once we’ve set the stage, whatever happens next is up to the universe.

I believe we were put on earth to learn certain lessons, and that G-d – or whoever you believe in – molds our experiences, giving us the opportunity to become “educated.” Success…failure…disappointment…every outcome happens for a reason, allowing us to grow on a deeper level, and it’s our job to find the message in each. And if you find yourself getting the same type of results over and over, like you’re endlessly driving around in circles, then maybe that’s your higher power’s way of banging you over the head with a particular lesson until you finally get it.

So why did Tiger’s putt catch the top-edge of the hole and fall in?

Well…it was just meant to be.

As for my date, it ended rather innocently. We finished our drinks, I paid the tab, and we went our separate ways. But had I given into my temporary insanity, I trust that things would have still worked out for the best. If we were meant to be together, then she would’ve found someway to deal with it.

After all, sometimes all it takes to get the girl is some alcohol and a little luck.

1 comment:

  1. GREAT ARTICLE AS USUAL. YOU HIT IT ON THE HEAD. I wish you had thrown the drink, interesting to see what would happen!



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"It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?