Friday, August 19, 2011

AM I DESTINY'S CHILD OR THE KING OF HAPPY COINCIDENCES?

I've always considered my life to be somewhat charmed. Not necessarily any more so than the next person's, mind you, but when I think of all the terrible conditions I could have been born into -- poverty, sickness, stupidity -- I have to chalk up my relatively easy existence to more than just random good fortune. There must be something slightly mystical about it all. God, perhaps? (No, let's not go there.)

But is it our destiny to be one of the lucky ones born with limbs, eyesight and hearing in tact, as well as parents who love us? Does fate have anything to do with it? And if so, would it be cruel to suggest to a blind person that blindness is his or her destiny? Or that it's fate in action when a baby is born HIV positive. Would I be a total asshole for suggesting that might be the case?

I've always found pondering such weighty concepts as destiny and fate to be far more useful and interesting than trying to figure out the meaning of life, and it was the highlight of a memorable conversation my friend Deirdre and I once had with Darren Hayes. It was back when he was in Savage Garden, and we were at a dinner party in New York City. Considering that at the time he was best known for over-the-top musical declarations of love and affection like "Truly Madly Deeply" and "I Knew I Loved You," I wasn't surprised when our discussion landed on matters of the heart and the role that destiny and fate play in love.

I was going through my cynical phase, and Darren was trying to convince me that love, fate and destiny were driving forces of life. He said that fate had brought him to his Savage Garden partner Daniel Jones, to his then-wife, to dinner that night. It was all destiny, irreversible, meant to be. Darren, who has since come out as gay, was still in the closet at the time, but I knew. "Fate must have terrible gaydar," I said to myself, chuckling. "It led you straight into the arms of a woman when it should have found you a man."

I was impressed by his passion but unmoved by his argument that destiny and fate play such major roles in lives and loves. "I believe in love," I told him, "but not for me." As for fate, well, it's easy to look at anything in hindsight and call it destiny. But what about those little isolated moments in life, random encounters that exist only in a specific time and place? Is that fate in action, too?

And when relationships go sour, was it still destiny that brought you together, or just one big cosmic fuck-up? Don't we always tend to use words like "fate" and "destiny" to describe positive things? It's fate when you meet the man of your dreams, but something else entirely when he cheats on you. Who'd call that fate? "Sorry that your husband dumped you, dear, but it was your destiny." Slap!

Darren and I agreed to disagree on the subject of fate and destiny, but he wasn't budging on the question of love. "You will fall in love," he promised me. "I'm going to see you in five years, you're going to tell me how in love you are, and I'm going to say, 'I told you so.'" Love, he concluded, was my destiny.

We only saw each other once after that night, a few years later at a party in L.A. By then, Darren was divorced, but he hadn't given up on love -- for him or for me, though I sadly informed him that both my romantic state and romantic outlook had remained unchanged since our last meeting. Of course, love has come and gone and come and gone and come again several times in the years since, but for me, it's always been too fleeting, or too complicated, never quite enough to bet your life on.

Is that my destiny? I prefer to call it simply the way things are, not necessarily fate because that would imply that my future is all laid out before me, and I have no control over what happens next. Or that someone who never finds the right person is destined to be alone. Is destiny so cruel that she only picks certain people to be happy? (Yes, destiny has to be a she!) My niece is named Destiny, and I've always assumed that my brother and his wife chose that name partly because they hoped that it would influence hers in a positive way.

I prefer to use words like "fate" and "destiny" to describe simpler things, those happy coincidences that we don't see coming. That's how I explain running into my college friend Christian years ago on the Charles Bridge in Prague. Or once bumping into my ex-boyfriend and his then-current boyfriend in a train station in Florence when I was on my way to Pisa. Or when Cara, someone I'd never met who had become friends with my friend Dave after I left New York, moved to Buenos Aires and just happened to end up living in my apartment building. Or when Zena came to Buenos Aires on vacation and unknowingly rented an apartment right across the hall from me. Or the last 48 hours in Bangkok, during which I've run into two people I know from Melbourne.

Someone once told me that things like that happen with people who are meant to be in your life. In the case of Cara, fate led to a deep and important friendship. Christian and I were already friends and remain friends to this day, so in that case, fate didn't lead to anything in particular. It's just made for an excellent story that we both still recount whenever we're in the same city. I haven't seen my ex in the better part of a decade, but I'll be sure to keep an eye out for him the next time I'm in Italy.

As for those two guys from Melbourne, I wouldn't be surprised if I never see them again. But I'm pretty certain that I will. And that, dear readers, has nothing to do with fate or destiny. That's just life.
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