If we consider life to be a journey, then I believe fate is the road on which we travel. It has twists and turns and how we respond to the unexpected determines the course of our lives. I do not view fate as the determining cause, but rather a series of challenges that let us sort out where it’s most important to focus our energies. If I had allowed fate to determine my life, I never would have lived in New York or gotten a degree from NYU. It wasn’t “in the stars” and I had several setbacks leading up to it, yet, I somehow made it happen.
Frequently, however, the decisions of others can affect our lives. In particular, decisions made by those who brought us into existence have a profound impact on the circumstances affecting us. Two of the most important decisions that have impacted my life occurred before I was even born.
My mother was born and raised in West Virginia but her father was from Georgia, and abandoned her and her mother when my mother was still a toddler. He stayed in touch with my mother via letters, but never again lived with the family. In 1947, after graduating high school, she accepted an offer from her uncle to move to Atlanta to attend business school. There, she was reunited with her father, but it was to be short-lived. In July 1950, during a family cookout, her father suffered a fatal heart attack. Eleven years later, my mother married my father who she met at church.
My father grew up in Middle and South Georgia. Throughout the 1950s he served overseas in the Air Force, mainly in West Germany. When he left the service, he settled in Atlanta and used the GI Bill to attend law school. The week he was scheduled to take the bar exam, his mother died. He never again tried to reschedule taking the exam. At the time, my parents may have been aware that I was on the way. Instead of becoming a lawyer, my father started selling insurance — something he wasn’t very good at doing. He eventually went to work for the City of East Point Water Department. When I got a job in New York in 1989, I started out making more money than my father was making after nearly twenty years with the city.
The decision my mother made to come to Atlanta was probably the most profound one to affect me, because if she had stayed in West Virginia I wouldn’t be here now. Of course, my grandfather’s antics leading up to my mother’s birth also played a role which led to my great-uncle making the offer to sponsor my mother’s trip to Atlanta and to pay for her education. My father’s decision to not pursue a legal career was more subtle but had just as much impact, since the economic trends of the time were slowly turning against the middle class. It’s doubtful he would have had a successful career as a trial lawyer, but given his penchant for research, he could have had a position behind the scenes, researching case law or preparing wills and other legal documents, or in corporate law, advising clients.
Their decisions “sealed my fate” so to speak, since these choices determined the circumstances under which I grew up. To this day, I remain fascinated by the many random coincidences that led to my being here and the numerous people who made just the right choices that led to my existence. Genealogy chronicles these random choices, and working on my family’s history gave me many plotting ideas with which to work. Consequently, I try to include in my writing a long term look at the origins of each character and how that character’s response to “fate” affected his or her outcome. Sometimes these can spread across multiple works and can span many years and many genres.
Fate is the road we travel and one never knows exactly where it will lead. It’s populated with happy coincidences and unexpected setbacks and how we navigate them makes all the difference in where we end up. Rather than a guiding force, fate rather challenges us to overcome the obstacles placed in our paths to become who we truly aspire to be.