Fate

 

Today I read an excellent, though over-long, essay on fate, faith and suffering, which I recommend. The author is a man named Samuel Kronen, who has a variety of debilitating chronic diseases that sap his energy almost completely. He was a healthy young man before these illnesses afflicted him, and so he thought his fate would be quite different. You can imagine that in this situation he has a lot to say about life. And much of it is excellent.

He refers to Viktor Frankl's masterwork Man's Search for Meaning in an attempt to create some psychic relief from a life so seemingly derailed, as were those Frankl met in the Nazi concentration camps when he was imprisoned there. Frankl wrote this about fate:

"How misguided it now seems to us when people simply complain or rail against their fate. What would have become of each of us without our fate? How else would our existence have taken shape and form under its hammer blows and under the white heat of our suffering at its hands? Those who rebel against their fateóthat is, the circumstances against which they cannot help and which they certainly cannot changeóhave not grasped the meaning of fate. Fate really is integral in the totality of our lives; and not even the smallest part of what is destined can be broken away from this totality without destroying the whole, the configuration of our existence."

[Then Kronen writes:] "Iím still learning to accept my fate. Itís okay for things not to be okay. I wish more people were okay with that. But accepting oneís fate means having faith in our own life in particular and human life in general. For me, God is anything that keeps me from committing suicide. Faith is about survival.

"But thereís another, deeper part of me that refuses to dieóthat is completely unfazed and unaffected by everything thatís happened. This could simply be the will to live, or some divine spark, or even a future self of some kind, but whatever it is, I believe itís a crucial aspect of our humanity. Itís a certain knowingness arising from deep within that life is worth living, no matter what. The more I can connect with that force, the better I can accept and transcend my fate.

"Sometimes I wake up at night with an overwhelming feeling of dread, like I donít have a home in this world anymore. I think it has something to do with how far my life turned out from what I imaginedóthe glaring distance between the image conceived and the actuality experienced. Itís a kind of panic or guilt toward all the things I would or should have been had things been otherwise. But the thought that soothes me in such moments is that I cannot escape my fate. It couldnít have been otherwise by virtue of the fact that it simply is. Iíve been through something, Iím going through something, and in my better moments, all the pain, the uncertainty, the rage, everything thatís happened throughout this whole ordeal feels worthwhile in some indescribable way. I know now that Iím alive. Iím not sure I knew that before. And with the reality of life comes the reality of death. Iím going to die one day. And I can make the best of this life despite my circumstances or not. Itís up to me to use the impending reality of death to live more fully today.

"In another way, this experience has been its own kind of initiation rite into adulthood. I was kind of a moral idiot before all this went down (which, in fairness, partially had to do with the fact that I was still practically a child). To quote Dostoevsky, ďsuffering is the sole origin of consciousness.Ē Suffering is consciousness. In our evolutionary history, we needed to suffer to find out what to do and not do. Iím grateful, too, to have experienced so much psychological time, because, in fact, there is still time yet. I know deep down that there is so much more to learn from this experience, something itís trying to teach me, before I take my final breath. There is a Samuel Kronen that exists somewhere in the future that only I can become, and he smiles on me. He wants me to make it.

"Sometimes life, by coincidence or design, calls forth the human spirit buried beneath the veneer of modernity. We are meant to be so much more than we are. Within the limitations of our lives there exists an entirely new set of possibilities we never before considered actualizing."

This is some deep stuff here, but so very clear-sighted. There is a very real sense in which we are an eternal being of limitless possibilities living in a very limited body, limited time/space, limited abilities--all of which limits being what we call "fate." This situation causes us a bit of dizziness and disorientation, for on one level we do feel those limits and sorrows and afflictions that come from those limits keenly. So very keenly that they break our hearts. And yet, on the other hand, we feel the eternal nature of our self within us, and we feel that somehow all of this is not Real, though it is certainly real. That this "fate" is a set of situations from which we are learning, and that somehow the knowledge is so very worth having.

More from Kronen:

"A different vision of human suffering would allow for an acceptance of oneís fate without losing something similarly powerful: Faith. This is deeper than hoping for a good outcome. Having faith means you still believe in human life and meaning, regardless of the outcome of our own lives. Such a vision would likewise refuse to frame suffering in zero-sum terms, as though itís your suffering against mine and whoever has more of it is tough or something. I always thought, after getting sick, that my pain was so much bigger and more important than everyone elseís, and I let them know it. This didnít help my case.

"It also just wasnít true. Human beings absorb pain in the same fundamental way. Suffering is relative to what we are used to and what we have come to expect from life, so that even seemingly small things can cause genuine sorrow. If thereís one thing my illness has taught me, as alienating and bizarre as the experience has been, itís that human suffering is interwoven: Our hearts bleed alike. Individual consciousness is one piece of the larger puzzle of human consciousness in which we all participate in the eternal process of life and death, pain and joy, good and evil. Weíre in this together."

Indeed we are.

Kronen then mentions something very practical in terms of coping with affliction and sorrow; something that I have also thought about:

"The essence of Franklís approach is to live as if you are from the future so as to give our choices in the present more urgency and immediacy, as though we have already lived through this and have come back to correct any mistakes. This is but one way of rising above the suffering of the moment to see oneself and oneís life clearly and objectively across time. This gives the suffering of the present a deeper meaning worth living for. Despair is suffering minus meaning, wrote Frankl. The moment our suffering is given a larger purpose, it no longer carries the same unbearable weight of cosmic injustice and we can proceed with spirit.

"What I find so compelling about Franklís system is its pragmatism. In these hellish circumstances, we have to use whatever worksóhumor, love, thoughts of the future, remembrances of the past, God, nature, art, whatever gets you through the day. Itís a flexible system free of dogma and tailored to the individual. Find some greater meaning to your life that can transcend your suffering. Make it personal. Make it felt. This is what people have been doing for all of human history. The challenge is to apply the principle to modern life. We can find meaning through creation, through working toward some goal or task. It can also be found through having an experience or an encounter with a human being, to experience love. Even when confronted with an unchangeable fate (like an incurable disease), meaning can be found through changing our attitude toward our fate. ďIn such cases we can still wrest meaning from life by giving testimony to the most human of all human capacities: the ability to turn suffering into a human triumph.Ē Frankl referred to his vision of human suffering as one of tragic optimism: Retaining lifeís meaning in the face of tragedy; accepting oneís fate without giving in to despair. This capacity is what makes us human."

It may seem heretical, but I believe our future, post-mortal self will indeed be going back through the moments of its mortal life, learning and correcting and fixing. Only then we will be ready for the final judgment. What an incredible learning experience we have been given, and it is coupled with the incredible gift of repentance and redemption. It's the complete package of growth. The Plan is good!