Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fate versus control

Jo, Sarah and I got into a really good conversation over our second pitcher of beer on Friday night. The topic? Fate.

The question: Do you believe in it? Fate?

In one corner, we have the believers. (Doomed and hopeless?) romantic souls who believe things happen for a reason. That there is some guiding force that nudges us along our paths. That the instant connection we feel with certain people and places, being in the right place at the right time, that things happen for a reason are all because they’re all part of some greater cosmic plan that we’re not necessarily aware of but should/can just trust.

Bah! is what Jo and Sarah have to say to that.

Jo used to believe in fate until she realized that in doing so, she was relinquishing control of her own life. That if you believe everything happens for a reason, then you believe you have no control over your own path, your choices, your fate. As a Class A Control Freak, I had to cede the point to her. I definitely like to think I have control over where I’m going, over my choices and their outcomes; that I am where I am today thanks in no small part to… me.

And Sarah’s takedown on fate is, well, what about really crummy things that happen to people? Spouses who are hit by cars? Losing your job and health insurance? Kids born in the Congo to see their parents slaughtered—really? That’s supposed to happen according to someone’s/something’s divine orchestration? Or even on a lesser scale, when one plods along and nothing horribly tragic happens and yet nothing is quite what we imagined either: fate or control? If it's fate, it is cruel indeed.

I don’t disagree with either Jo or Sarah. In fact, I feel compelled to sit in the corner of fate just to play devil’s advocate. Since I am not religious, the concept of fate complements my hippie-dippie-ish beliefs in the universe. That everything is connected and beautiful in a very mysterious, unknowable way. Yes, I know I am responsible for my own success and happiness. But still, I’ve always felt like a lucky soul. I am responsible but I’ve also had a lot of help, beyond my mom, dad, family, friends and mentors. There has been more than one occasion when I have felt something stepping in for an instant to save me. Could have just been luck, and a hopeful girl’s naïve belief. Or it could have been fate.

And then there’s this little Parisian adventure I’m on. Honestly, I had nothing to do with it. Or did I? After studying here for a semester in the 90s, I was smitten. I wanted to stay but I didn’t have any friends or a job to keep me. Then I was ready to cash in my 401(k) a few years down the road so Zack and I could move over together, but he wasn’t so keen on that idea. So I just went on with life in the states, obsessed with this pretty city. I read books about it (fell in love with Janet Flanner), I’d load up on Eric Rohmer movies, I had more Eiffel Tower trinkets than I’m comfortable admitting (mostly gifts—what’s a girl to do?). Then in 2008, I spent two holidays here, doing apartment exchanges and loving the local lifestyle. I Velib’d all over town and wrote the Tour du Chocolat. Back home, I reconnected with an old colleague who was taking a leave of absence to live in the Marais for three month—it was a bold and exciting idea that hadn’t crossed my mind. I saw Man on Wire and silently wept in the dark at the views from Notre Dame. Then one morning I was breakfasting at Balthazar with my old Creative Director and mid-conversation—mid-sentence—decided that I, too, was going to take a leave of absence the next spring to spend time in Paris. But then fate walked through the door.

No? How else do you explain it? That all these little stones kept getting dropped in the bucket and finally tipped the scale? That the in-house recruiter of my ad agency walked into my office not long after that breakfast, nonchalantly asked what I thought of Paris, and basically connected me to my new boss, my new job, my new chapter in life? Somehow, for some reason, a door was opened for me. Poussez… come to Paris!

A year ago, I really believed I was here for a reason. That I was going to fall in love or get a book contract or have some grand epiphany that would explain why it all happened. Now I don’t necessarily believe that. For one, I’m still single, without a publishing deal (bah!). But also, now that the magic has been tempered with reality to some degree, I realize that living here is just that: about living here.

Living in Paris teaches you how to appreciate details and moments. Every day, you can look up and be left breathless by the architecture. You can be inspired by the charm and grace of people walking by. When you buy your bread and cheese and fennel to be eaten within the next couple hours, it somehow ties you to your daily practices in a more delicious way. The pleasures of life are more immediate. More colorful, more dramatic. When you bike through the Place de la Concorde or walk through the crooked streets of the Marias, or sit on le Pont des Arts, and have a 360-degree view of history and beauty and magic, you are conscious on a wholly different level. You see and feel things you don’t otherwise normally see or feel.

I know it all sounds terribly cliché. Guilty. But at the same time, I still can’t decide if it’s just a cliché or if it’s fate or whether I controlled my being here today.


  1. Your last paragraph put into words everything I love about Paris.

    P.S. I love your blog!

  2. Your hard work certainly played a role in your being at the right place at the right time. It is nice to see someone have one of their dreams come true. How long will you remain in Paris?

  3. I think you wanted it so badly, you manifested it. All those little eiffel tower souvenirs worked their magic :-)

  4. I agree with Sara, I think when we have a deeply rooted certainty about things (even unconsciously) we bring them into being.

    Either way, I'm so glad you're here.

    ps: GREAT post. Beautifully and aptly expressed, as always.

  5. Amazing to read, Amy... makes me think about my own life and situation (I'll email you more on that.) And I'm surely guilty of giving you at least one Parisian-themed gift :) You are such a great writer- this was awesome to read.

  6. Dear Amy.
    I am a new reader, and I just have to tell you that I love your blog.
    Question: How long time will you stay in Paris?

    Kind regards and a nice easter to you.

  7. Hi Amy,
    I love this post and have been thiking about the same fate vs. control debate myself. I think life is full of a little of both if you work hard and stay open to the opportunities as they present themselves.

    I also agree with Mel that a deeply rooted certainty/belief/focus (even unconsciously) creates a strong force and makes things happen.

    For me it is summarized as "having faith in faith."

  8. Merci, mes amis! Thanks for the kind words and support.

    Isn't it nice that we're all on our own little adventures? I admittedly feel lucky that I'm enjoying mine in Paris. But I think we're all always searching and reflecting and transitioning. At least that's when the growth and true fulfillment comes in.

    I forgot about the whole "The Secret" aspect to this... putting energy out into the universe... hmmm... more to think about.

  9. Hi Amy,

    I've been looking in the net for months for something that describes the daily life in Paris as a Parisien. :-).

    I had been there in June 2008 for three weeks and just like you, fell in love with the city. It is inexplicable isn't it? How a place can mean so much to you?

    Your blog is excellent. I don't know if I will ever return there. I may come as a tourist but it doesn't have that feeling when you are on your own in Paris, living there, working there.

    Keep posting. Let me see Paris through your eyes..