Monday, October 25, 2010

If Only One Thing Had Happened Differently

Last Wednesday, following my Modern History exam, I went to McDonald's with some friends. After finishing my meal, I had five minutes to get to the station to catch my bus home. So I said bye to my friends and made my way to the station. Along my path was a pedestrian crossing, and as always, I waited until the light turned green, and then I crossed the road. When I got to the other side of the crossing, I could see that my bus was at the station, and that passengers were boarding, so I quickened my pace in order to catch it before it left. While I was running, I could have sworn that the bus was going to leave without me, because it looked like the last passenger had boarded. I made it to the bus after all, much to my delight. When I stepped on to the bus, there was still one man receiving his change from the driver. After I showed my bus pass, the driver accelerated, and I realised that I owed my place on that bus to the man who had boarded it before me. If he hadn't caught the bus, then the driver would have left before I made it. Or, if he had paid using the correct fare, the driver wouldn't have taken the time to give him change. When I arrived home, I was feeling the heat, and realised that I would still have been at the station in the blistering heat, waiting for a bus, if that man hadn't caught the bus before me. It got me thinking about how our actions, no matter how insignificant we may think them to be, can impact on the lives of others, for better or for worse. It only takes ONE action to act as the catalyst in a convoluted chain of events.

Here's a scene from the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button that encapsulates this concept quite explicitly:

In this scene, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) remarks "Sometimes we're on a collision course, and we just don't know it." This is very true. It's not as if the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks were aware of the fate that they would meet that day. They would have woken up in the morning, had breakfast, kissed their spouses and children, and walked out the door for another routine day. Little did they know that they would never return home to their families. Even more applicable to this notion of fate is the decision made by the people who caught the planes that were to be hijacked. Perhaps some people would have been alive today if they didn't desire an earlier flight. It's not their fault though; our world should be one where people feel safe to catch any plane. Unfortunately, we do not live in such a world. Our world is infested with some despicable beings, who I find it difficult to label as human.

We also hear Benjamin describe life as a series of intersecting lives and incidents, out of anyone's control. The truth is that we can in fact have control over our lives, however, there is only so much that we alone can determine. For example, I have control over whether I want to go to the video store. However, I do not have control over whether the DVD I desire is available or not. Perhaps it was hired ten minutes before I got there, and maybe I would have made it in time if it weren't for a car accident disturbing the flow of traffic. When I think of intersecting lives, I imagine what the world would be like if everyone just stayed in bed for a day. Would civilisation collapse? Perhaps, a little. I also think about who my parents are. I am the son of Henry and Sue Savona, but it could have been different. I often think how lucky I am to be a human being. I could have been born as an animal...something as insignificant as a fly, or even a gnat.

When I consider this notion of intersecting lives and incidents, and the inner complexities of life, I am also reminded of Neil Finn's song Anytime. Finn wrote the song after witnessing his beloved dog almost get run over by a bus. Here are the complete lyrics to this beautiful song:

I see a dog upon the road
Running hard to catch a cat
My car is pulling to a halt
The truck behind me doesn't know
Everything is in the balance
Of a moment I can't control
And your sympathetic strings
Are like the stirrings in my soul

I could go at anytime
There's nothing safe about this life
I could go at anytime

Find the meaning of the act
Remember how it goes
Every time you take the water
You swim against the flow
The world is all around us
The days are flying past
And fear is so contagious
But I'm not afraid to laugh

I could go at anytime
There's nothing safe about this life
I could go at anytime

Anytime (come without warning)
Anytime (it could be so easy)
A walk in the park (or maybe when I'm sleeping)
Anytime (see the clouds come over)
Rain or shine (I make you so unhappy)
Let's make it right

I feel like I'm in love
With a stranger I'll never know
Although you're still a mystery
I'm so glad I'm not alone

I could go at anytime
There's nothing safe about this life
Make it so easy to fly in the night
I could go at anytime
I could go at anytime

This song is essentially about the fragility of life, and how we often take our lives for granted. I'm sure that many of you assume that you'll live to be at least 70. Personally, I hope that I will make that age, but I know that it's no certainty. Any of us could die tomorrow due to some freak accident. Of course, that would be horrible, and in no way do I mean to trivialise such an occurrence. I just want you all to know that it's the truth, no matter how harsh it may be. Look at someone like Steve Irwin. I still remember how shocked I was the moment I learnt of his death. He worked with animals for a great portion of his life, and in a bitter irony, it was through one ill-fated encounter with a stingray that he died. It's no wonder they say 'truth is stranger than fiction'. When Finn sings, "...fear is so contagious, but I'm not afraid to laugh," he is referring to how life is so short in the scheme of things, and hence we should make the most of it. We shouldn't count down the days, or the years, to our death, but instead revel in the beauty that life has to offer.

As I draw to a close on this blog, I'd just like to clarify that I do not believe in destiny or fate. I believe in living in the moment, completely aware of our surroundings, and how they can impact on us. I don't believe that things happen for a reason, instead believing that life is one huge game of chance and circumstance, where one tiny instance can change the entire course of things. The irony in my reasoning is as follows: what if that one tiny instance was destined to occur?


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