The randomness of life has challenged us since the dawn of humanity. Most of us strive to bring some semblance of order to our lives, as disorder and chaos tend to make us feel anxious and uncomfortable. We try to lessen unpredictability in our daily routines and longer term planning.
But fate often has its own ideas: Unexpected changes and events occur in our journeys: Sometimes there are unforeseen twists in our paths, roadblocks or detours, which we abhor. At other times there might be pleasurable options and opportunities.
Stuff does indeed happen. We’ve all known pleasure and serenity, as well as disappointments and indignities. We’ve brimmed with confidence, and have also had self-doubts.
Thus we learn to live with uncertainty and ambiguity, which we deal with in different ways. Some feel immune to bad fate (“I have good karma”), but we know that a sense of invulnerability (“It can’t happen to me”) is foolhardy. Others take a vigilant approach like Chicken Little, expecting the sky to fall. Religious people may be reassured by a benevolent Supreme Being who will shepherd them safely whatever fate brings.
The majority of us, however, learn to compartmentalize. We avoid the stress of constant vigilance by walling off dangers in our minds so that they don’t interfere with our everyday lives. We also try to prevent problems: We childproof our homes, eat healthy foods and avoid dangerous situations. But we realize we can’t stave off Mother Nature’s disasters, prevent all accidents, or always keep our loved ones safe.
Tragedies are a sad but natural part of the ebb and flow of life, like wildfires in overgrown dry forests. “Ride the waves,” we are advised, but when unwelcome physical or emotional pain occurs, as sentient beings we are prone to react with sadness and tears.
We need to remember that time, help and people will eventually make things better. After the initial shock and feelings of pain and helplessness, we regroup, gather our thoughts, and use our strengths, resources and relationships to recover.
When we experience success or serenity, we enjoy the glow. But just as loss is never an ultimate defeat, success is never an ultimate triumph. The present situation is a mere snapshot in our meaningful journeys, and doesn’t reflect the way things were or how they will be in the future.
In periods of calm and pleasure, we need to appreciate and cherish those wonderful moments. But unforeseen blips on our radar screens will inevitably appear (“nobody gets away unscathed”).
How we courageously face setbacks and show resilience, and how we graciously accept successes and cherish good fortunes, are salient indications of our inner resources and wisdom.
Transient changes will appear on the road of life, but we can rest assured that the pathway will most often return to a state of stability. As Rudyard Kipling put it, “If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same, you are a better man than most.”