Now, where did I leave that?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013


This weekend I caught the tail end of a favorite movie of mine, Serendipity. I've found myself thinking about the word serendipity ever since. According to Oxford, the word was first used in 1754, and was based on a location in a fairy tale. The definition is "the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way". But for the first time, I realized the movie kind of tangles serendipity with destiny, and confuses itself. Serendipity by definition is an accident; destiny is pretty much the opposite: "the events that will necessarily happen to a particular person or thing in the future; the hidden power believed to control future events; fate". So is life pre-destined, or rather a series of happy accidents?

In another post I talked about Linda and I getting together. If the thunderstorm hadn't begun at the exact moment I was walking past Linda's cabin, if her door had been closed, if someone else had been there visiting with her....we wouldn't be living at the feet of the Catskill mountains with 4 cats, 2 dogs, 3 chickens and a bunch of fish. Or would we? Was it pre-ordained that one day we would come together to create the zoo that is our family?

If Pip had been bigger and stronger, if Linda hadn't gotten that particular litter to foster, if Pip wasn't fond of riding about on Linda's shoulder, she wouldn't have joined the menagerie, and that would have been a loss to all of us.

If back in July of 2010, my boss hadn't been showing me the website photo of the dog she was adopting from the shelter, I wouldn't have seen Yeti's photo. And without Yeti, we probably never would have gotten Lola.

Or, given their quirks, were we the people most meant to adopt and love them?

About 31 and a half years ago, I made a split second decision that resulted in my now almost-32 year old son. I had known from childhood I wasn't going to let the sins of my mother visit upon the heads of any future children I had, so I never planned to have kids. I was so afraid of being like my parents I swore I'd never have children and face that risk. Was my split-second decision, a yes instead of a no, destiny or accident? Was it happy accident, mere chance that my doctor was a kind, gentle man who came to my just-turned-20 self in the hospital room the day after the baby was born and said to me "Everyone is telling you to do what's best for the baby. But what is best for you?", a question whose answer shocked me and whose end result has given me so much joy and pride every time I look at my 31 year old's face. And that moment of serendipity--or destiny?--changed everything for me, changed my direction. Seven years later his brother was born. I was twice-blessed; was that destiny or serendipity?

I've lived in the Hudson Valley my whole life, always following the river farther north. The mountains change, from the Hudson Highlands, to the Shawangunks, to the Catskills that have won my heart like no others, but the river has remained constant, always caressing the land, a silky snake leaving an indelible trail. When I went to high school, I crossed the river twice a day. Thirty-some years later, I cross it twice a day for work. Did you know that the Hudson River is actually a tidal estuary? It has two currents. This can create great difficulties for divers, I've been told, but it's the nature of this river; it's who she is, coming and going. This morning on my way to work, it suddenly seemed to me that serendipity and destiny are like those two currents. There isn't either accident or fate; both exist simultaneously. We can flow north or south, and we make that decision, and within either flow is the serenity that invites serendipity and embraces destiny. Perhaps those happy accidents are our destiny. Maybe those accidents change destiny's direction.

We all know about Robert Frost's wandering in the woods and where it led him.....but did he choose that road, or did it choose him? Did an errant wind blow down a trail marker, or did destiny bathe that road in a hallowed light, blinding him to all other possibilities? 

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

What do you think?


Nancy J said...

These are lovely words, you have shared so much, and in my life, I have always wondered if the decisions I have made were pre-ordained, or did they happen because of my plans or thoughts at the time.We do not get to have second chances at life, and your wonderful doctor ,he was so very thoughtful and caring, and his words can apply to us all at some stage.Enjoy your wonderful days. Greetings from Jean

92Y Talks said...

Funny, it was a serendipitous coincidence that brought my husband and I together too. It had to do with the fact that we were both Prince fans -- if we weren't we wouldn't have met. So we owe it all to him, really! Enjoyed this post - lots to think about.

turquoisemoon said...

Ooh Ashling, I enjoyed this post. I have always loved the word "serendipity". As a Buddhist, I think karma is involved...

the wild magnolia said...

I love word information and thoughts. Serendipity to me always meant, fly by the seat of your pants, and spur of the moment. Not planned.

destiny, i think of the song "You Are My Destiny", by Paul Anka. You are my "ment to be", made for each other......

i agree they both work.

thanks for the word studies and photos.

happy morning, noon, and night.

Robin Larkspur said...

I always go round and round about destiny/fate, freedom of will, and have used the word, "serendipity" on numerous occasions. I like to think at times that some things were "meant to be", or that I was "guided" to a particular path by what, destiny? free will? Well, all in all, I love to think about serendipity, and enjoy grabbing on when something beckons. Still no solid answer from me about believing in destiny, but that's all I can give you right now, lol!

Jen said...

What a beautiful piece--I love the way you weave the river into the personal. I don't believe in destiny, but I think serendipity is wonderful.

Akannie said...

So glad to see you back. And with thought provoking prose, as always. I loved that movie too, and I have experienced so many serendipitous events in my crazy life that there's no way I can't revel in it. All part of the magnificent mystery.

Destiny, on the other hand?? I don't know...we pick and we choose where we think we want to go, on some level. Or not. lol

Happy Thursday.

Our Neck of the Woods said...

Such a lovely post. The more I think about it, I believe life is filled of predestined moments and happy accidents. I don't think we are destined to live a certain life and we can always change our situation, but I do believe that my husband and I were absolutely meant for each other. Maybe it's just the romantic in me :)

Brian Kelly said...

This is a particularly brilliant post, and I love the photos you chose of your critters.