“Everything happens for a reason.” That’s a platitude we often hear, called up both in appreciation and consolation for the ups and downs that life throws at us. Lost job, newfound love, missed opportunities, grabbed chances. All for a reason.
Somewhere along the path of letting go of belief (if that’s the path you’re on), whether of a benevolent personal god or simply a vague sense of fate guided by a universe that has something in store for us, you may encounter a sense of the hollowness of those ideas. When the idea of reality having an intention drops away, an understanding sinks in like a shard of glass in the mind.
It is the realization of how incredibly unlikely it is for you to be where you are right now, connected to the significant people in your life. The better the place and the connections, the more the sense of unlikeliness can be terrifying.
It may be brought about by an unexpected challenge to your sense of security, to your most important connections, or to your place in the world. Or on the other side of the spectrum, by good fortune so surprising that it keeps you awestruck. Anything that seems to deviate your sense of your own fate from what you thought was the norm can bring about this realization.
Consider someone you are very close to, a significant other. Think back to how you met. How did you get to that place? What decision or influences caused you to be there, at that time? Spend a few minutes doing this- why where you there? And what was the cause before that, and then before that? And observe how tangled and dependent the web becomes at every strand.
The later in life you met, the greater the odds against it ever happening. More time means more things had to go right. Every career move, every decision on where to live, on who to align yourself with along the way. Who you said no to, who you said yes to. And if your paths crossed multiple times and the connection almost lost before finally settling into stable orbits, how even more unlikely?
When you realize that there was no meant to be, no overarching because, that the universe did not guide your path, that’s when it hits you. I could have missed it. This almost didn’t happen. Change one thing and it wouldn’t have. One decision even going back to your teenage years could have shifted the path.
To truly see things this way is heart-stopping. Hyperventilating, reduced-to-tears heart-stopping. The overwhelming sense of pure, stupid luck and fragility. How tenuous these threads are that pull people together, held only in place because the past solidifies, and you become incredibly thankful that it does. Those threads are sensitive in their potentiality. They intersect only in moments, and once connected they no longer have to hold it all together like a spider’s web in a monsoon. How fortunate we are that the past is immutable, no matter how much we’d sometimes wish otherwise.
What minor thing could have changed the course of events? What forgetting of car keys, missing a traffic light, not striking up a conversation with a person which would lead to meeting another person, and then another? What job that you didn’t take, or job you decided not leave? What evening out that a friend finally coaxed you into?
What experience you hated and wished had never happened, yet it left you open in a way you might not have otherwise been, to a meeting, a connection, or a reconnection?
It’s a contradiction, a duality, between this exact arrangement of things being so unlikely, and the larger universe not caring that things turned out one way or the other. We aren’t even noticed. There is no one to do the noticing. It all matters, but only to us.
As intelligent beings in an universe without intention, we have to face the paradox that even though we are capable of asking “why?”, the question has no answer. This leads us to yet another question about the worthwhile people and things in our lives. The question is puzzling but the answer is clear:
What does one do with a sense of gratitude that is greater than any you had when you thought there was someone to thank?