I thought I would write about accidents today because – erm – my new blue car is no longer totally and utterly scratch-free. I was reversing out of the drive and turning into the road – I must admit there is a lot of space to do this, but I was in a hurry – and the little wall suddenly jumped out at me and scraped the front nearside of the car. So I only managed to keep my new car looking good for about two months – not an amazing achievement.
Anyway, this got me thinking about accidents. I know quite a few people who say that they don’t believe in accidents. I can remember the first time someone said this to me. It was many years ago after a dear friend had been badly injured in a car crash, and this other person told me that she didn’t believe in accidents and it must have been meant to be. I was outraged – and didn’t begin to understand what she meant – but since then, I have come across this belief more and more frequently, and I have now begun to understand the idea. It seems to bring up the age old conundrums of whether or not life is random, whether or not we have free will. Can we, as it were, choose how our lives proceed, or are we subject to fate/destiny?
The vocabulary today is different, but the question is similar to the (unresolved? unresolvable?) religious controversy of predestination versus free will. This was a particularly hot topic during the Reformation. The puritans in particular were pretty keen on predestination, especially as it meant that they were “saved” and so could look forward to an afterlife of eternal bliss. I have always been rather puzzled that they didn’t take advantage of knowing they were saved to enjoy a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, 16th century style. As the equivalent of George Best’s, “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered”, they could have enjoyed booze, music, dancing, lots of “congress”, fast horses and the rest. Instead they endured lives of earnest denial, eschewing all fun and frivolity. Humans are strange creatures.
But anyway, the idea is still very widespread today that there is a purpose to everything, and I must admit it can be a rather consolatory idea. If every happening is meant to be, then I needn’t worry about having scraped the car – it was always going to happen, and it has a purpose which I am just not able to see yet. So that’s OK then, and I needn’t berate myself. Perfect. The trouble is – I am not convinced. It could be right – I don’t understand it but then there is so much that I don’t understand. I don’t understand how Schrodinger’s cat can be dead and alive. I can’t begin to understand the theories of theoretical physicists that there is a multiverse – other universes where we play out our lives in different ways because we have made different choices. I can’t begin to understand how Patrick has managed to send me so many signs from the afterlife, but I know he has. When it comes to accidents, I am not convinced, but I just don’t know.
There is, though, a related idea which does provide lots of consolation, and which I certainly believe. This is the thinking that you can’t evaluate or judge something that happens at the time. So many things happen, or decisions are made, which at the time seem good, bad or indifferent, but then later on can be seen through an entirely different prism.
There’s the lovely Chinese parable that encapsulates this. A farmer had a beautiful stallion and his neighbours told him he was very lucky. He shrugged, and said, “maybe, maybe not”. Then the stallion ran away. The neighbours said how unlucky this was. He responded “maybe, maybe not.” When the stallion returned with a wild mare in tow, his neighbours congratulated him on his luck. “Maybe, maybe not”. His son then broke his leg while trying to ride the wild mare -“bad luck” said the neighbours. “Maybe, maybe not”. Then the army came through, conscripting all the able-bodied young men in the village, and so leaving the son behind. “How lucky you are!” said the neighbours….And so on and so forth. The story can carry on through quite a number of apparent strokes of luck or reverses of fortune, all of which turn out to be the exact opposite. I think that this is so true. I look back on my life, and I realise that I got so many things wrong at the time, just like the Chinese neighbours.
So though the little accident with my car seems unfortunate, who knows? – it may lead to something wonderful. And as for whether or not I believe in accidents generally, well, the jury is still out. But if things are meant to be, and there are no accidents, then it is no accident that I am writing this blog, and no accident, dear reader, that you are reading it!