I believe that most people ignore the destiny that they’re creating in their lives every day, and move so fast from one task to the next that they don’t spend any time reflecting how one choice can triggers a subsequent string of occurrences. Because my own family’s fateful experiences are too numerous and too harrowing to easily write off as chance, and because I am comforted by the concept that there is some method to life’s madness, I believe that everything happens for a reason.
In 1943 my grandfather had just graduated from medical school and was serving as a naval doctor in World War II. He was assigned to transfer to a destroyer ship for his next term of duty, but became so seasick that his transfer was delayed. The destroyer, onto which several of his doctor friends were also assigned, was torpedoed and sunk, leaving no survivors.
In her late twenties, my mother worked her way through Europe, and during the summer of 1980, resided in Germany. On September 25, she visited the Oktoberfest in Munich, an annual celebration of accordions, polka, and beer. She took a train from Munich to Italy the next morning, the 26th. Later that day, at Oktoberfest, a German right-wing extremist planted a pipe bomb in a garbage can, killing 13 people and wounding over 200.
For two months my mother traveled through Italy, including Naples. On November 22nd, she left to work in Santa Maria de Leuca, a fishing village at the tip of the Boot’s heel. The next day, November 23rd, 1980, an enormous earthquake struck, its epicenter just south of Naples. It killed 4,800 people and injured almost 8,000 more. For the second time, my mother escaped serious injury, if not death, by mere hours.
On the afternoon of October 17, 1989, my father perused the selections of Plaza Books in Santa Cruz bookstore, bought a book, and left. Fifteen minutes later, the Loma Prieta earthquake struck. The bookstore, built at the turn of the century, was an old brick building that wasn’t retrofitted for earthquake safety. It was razed in the quake, and the three people inside died in its collapse. Even now, hearing the story for the umpteenth time, I get goose bumps. My mother was six months pregnant with me at the time; I almost never met my dad.
My grandpa viewed this luck as a sign that he had lived a good life thus far and was destined to accomplish something meaningful, and my mom agrees with this interpretation. My dad laughs off his brush with death as being “in the wrong place at the right time,” but I share the view that it’s our duty to repay this Karmic debt by leading good lives, and I feel obliged by affiliation.
Upon examining my life, I see not a series of independent events but a chain reaction. Instead of blaming a mishap on chance, by following it back to the first bad choice or indiscretion I can better learn from my mistakes. Of course, there are always the events that appear beyond my control and unrelated to my actions. Even so, I can trace all my luck, good and bad, to something kind or generous or dishonest or selfish I have done. Sometimes Karma takes a while to catch up, but I believe that it always does.
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