Last weekend we went on an outing to Signal Mountain. Road trips are a good time for getting acquainted. Nobody has to make eye contact. Outside the car flows a river of distraction. Inside, they are talking about great cities to move to, where the scene is artistic, young and progressive and the cost of living is reasonable. Austin, Portland, Madison and Bloomington. And I pitch in some trivia, kind of amused by the idea of picking up and moving to a place for a list of reasons like that. A place that looks good on paper. As if we had a choice.
Later on, my professor asks how we’re feeling about the program, are we happy with our decision? Everyone chimed in with their opinions, mostly affirmative: Well I looked at this and that program, in Vermont and Out West and upstate New York and This one is a good fit, etc. Again I found it hard to answer. This place is everything to me, but I don’t think of it as a “choice,” but as a pathway that was opened up to me. To come or not to come, maybe, but this is it. The narrow path.
Late in the evening we got onto the really personal stuff. Again, everyone is talking about their choices. Lovers and marriage, whether to have children or not. Religion. Have you always been a Christian? And I’m answering before thinking: That’s the culture I was born into. That’s the way my family is.
I think about going back to myself ten years ago, saying: There it is, your future, handle it gently. It all seems so designed. Did I choose to be rooted to this place, this husband, this set of beliefs?
We are all evangelists for personal responsibility, the strength of our decisions, being proactive and all that. Meanwhile, with age, I’m getting skeptical about our so-called “choices.” Like Flannery O’Connor, I’m beginning to think there is a hidden world, a barely visible plan and we may deviate from it in smallish ways, but the plan exists all the same.
I am still thinking about the book Never Let Me Go. This novel masquerades as a science fiction mystery, but its the weirdest kind of treatise on free will. As the truth is slowly revealed about the characters, their twisted origins and their horrible fate, they never revolt. The “system” and fate are one in the same, irresistible. Its about how we all more or less accept the terms of our existence.
Who has dreamed up this plan for us? I look at the strip-malled landscape and wonder. These vast economies, systems of oppression, the paths of my class. We go about making our plans, but do we deviate at all from the ruts set out before us?