A week or so ago, Clarence, at his Can You Hear Me Now? blog, posted an entry so provocative and intriguing I suggest you read it before continuing with this page. It’s short, titled Do You Ever Wonder?
Clarence’s rumination begins:
What I'm wondering is this: What road-map have you followed through your life? What drummer is playing the music you march to? Is there a guiding influence, a small, quiet voice you hear that "suggests" a course of action to take or which choice to make when several are available?
And it ends:
Is there a deeper purpose for your life? If so, what is it? Where are you going? How will you get there? Is it really up to you to decide? Who is it that determines what choices are set before you?
It is a valuable exercise, I believe, and an important step in maturing into our later years to take such questions seriously and to revisit them regularly. They cannot possibly be answered quickly and easily or maybe at all, and there are no right or wrong answers - only personal ones. I have pondered on this one many times: “Is it simply fate that has brought you to this point in time? Do you ever feel…your course has been set by one much greater than yourself?”
So far, I go – well, both ways, doing what some say is impossible: holding two conflicting beliefs simultaneously. I am convinced I have made each choice that changed the direction of my life on my own with no help or signpost from the gods or the cosmos.
On the other hand, when I imagine alternative lives I might have lived had I chosen other paths when arriving at crossroads, there is a dim, gray, unreal feel to them compared to the vibrant colors of the life I have lived. This life I have, then, feels overwhelmingly inevitable, that it could not have been any other way. And it is then I become equally convinced there is book somewhere where each event in our lives is written down, predetermined, and we have never had anything to say about any of it.
That thought invariably reminds me a favorite John Hartford tune from the 1960s, I Would Not Be Here:
Well, I would not be here if I hadn’t been there
And I wouldn’t’ve been there if I hadn’t just turned
On Wednesday the third in the late afternoon
Got to talking with George who works out the back
And only because he was getting off early
To go see a man at a Baker Street bookstore
With a rare first edition of Steamboats and Cotton
A book that he would never have sought in the first place
Had he not been inspired by a fifth-grade replacement
School teacher in Kirkwood who was picked just at random
By some man on a school board that couldn’t care less
And she wouldn’t’ve been working if not for her husband
Who’d moved two months prior to work in the office
Of man he had met while he served in the Army
And only because they were in the same barracks
An accident caused by a poorly made roster
Mixed up on the desk of a sergeant from Denver
Who wouldn’t’ve been in but for being in back
Of a car he was riding before he enlisted
That hit a cement truck and killed both his buddies
But a backseat flew up there, spared him from dying
And only because of the fault of a workman
Who forgot to turn screws on a line up in De-troit
Because he hollered at Sam who was hateful that morning
Hung over from drinking alone at a tavern
Because of a woman he wished he’d not married
He’d met long ago at a Jewish bar mitzvah
For the son of a man who had moved there from Jersey
Who managed the drugstore that sold the prescription
That cleared up the sunburn he’d caught way last summer.
Hartford’s lyrics don’t answer the question of cause and effect, but they do cheer you up when the mind gets too boggled to continue – which should not deter you from trying again. And again.