Rhyme nor Reason

A fair Puritan
I'll bet you she believed everything happened for a reason. ("A Fair Puritan" by E. Percy Moran. Image via Wikipedia)

The Daily Post has asked if I believe that everything happens for a reason.

Do I think that everything’s laid out for us, and we’re just following a predetermined path like Puritan predestination?

No. I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that the universe is laid out with that level of care given to my daily choices.

Do I think that we get what we need at each moment of our lives whether it’s what we want or not?

Pretty much.

I’m leery of the idea of “manifesting” things in one’s life. Someone puts a bunch of pictures of the Mercedes they want all over their fridge and then two weeks later, someone calls up and says, “Hey, I’ve got an extra Mercedes. Would you like one?” And it looks just like the one up on the fridge. It only seems like you’ve called the Mercedes to you if it actually shows up.

What I do find happens in my life is that I say something out loud and then it’s like I make myself more aware of that thing and more likely to see the possibilities that have been there all along. Like when I’ve not heard the word “surreptitious” in ages and then all of a sudden, everywhere I turn, in books, articles, blogs, at play dates, on Sesame Street, there it is, “surreptitious.”

I’d been living in North Carolina for about a year. I was working temp jobs that were not really doing it for me and trying to figure out what someone with an 18-month-old BA in English might do. I decided that I wanted an internship at a publishing company. I journaled about it and told my husband about it, but hadn’t really started looking into actual internships. A couple of days later, I was chatting with a fellow temp at the copy machine at work, and she happened to mention that her mother was an editor at Duke Press. Within two weeks, I was set up with an editorial internship. If I’d not a publishing internship on my mind, I might not even have registered the possibility when my coworker mentioned her connection. It’s like how when I’m in a good mood, I see people all over the place doing kind things, and when I’m in a bad mood, everyone’s a jerk.

Then there are the seemingly bad things that turn out to be kind of good things. Like when my parents said they couldn’t afford to send me to Oberlin, even though I’d gotten in and loved the school. So I went with the school that offered me the half-tuition scholarship. That’s where I met the guy with the mullet and acid-wash jeans who would become my husband (post-mullet). It’s also where, when my financial situation changed abruptly and for the worse at the end of my sophomore year, the provost helped me to get more financial aid and to load up on classes so I could graduate in three years rather than four.

Maybe my life would have been super awesome had I gone to Oberlin, but it’s pretty awesome the way it turned out, so I’m pretty OK with it. Did I go to this second-choice school for a reason (beyond the money)? If I did, I think it’s only in retrospect. If I’d gone to Oberlin, I think I’d be thinking I’d gone there for a reason.

I think the things that happen to us change our narrative about ourselves and this narrative can affect all future possibilities in our lives. If I’d gotten all of the money I needed to go to the more expensive school through sheer willpower and ingenuity, the story I would have about myself is maybe that I’m great at coming up with solutions for tough financial situations. Had I been convinced of my great fundraising abilities or my entrepreneurial moxie, I may have focussed on a different area of study or pursued a different career since I would have felt confident in a different aspect of myself. Whatever happened at Oberlin would have become my personal narrative and would have seemed like it was meant to be.

When one thing leads to another like that, I think it can feel like things happened for a reason. But I guess I look at it more that things fall into place how they fall into place, and if we can roll with whatever combination comes up, then it feels like fate.

Things happen for a reason, but I think we come up with the reason after the fact as we piece together our personal narrative into something coherent.

4 Replies to “Rhyme nor Reason”

  1. Gee, I didn’t realize we were your second choice 😉 but I’m certainly glad you were forced into that choice!


  2. Charity,

    Yet another good blog post! I think that when someone says, “I believe everything happens for a reason”, it’s really just a mildly superstitious way of saying, “I try not to let bad things get me down, and instead look for something good that can be gained from it down the road.”

    I find that most people associate different meanings to a word like “reason”, and if you ask a hundred people, you might get 101 definitions. Intuitively, I think most people would define the word as being synonymous with meaning, purpose or significance. And, I would go even further and say that the usual use of the word “reason” in such a context only applies to memorable events that (at some point in the future) result in a good of some kind.

    For example, if I win the Powerball lottery tomorrow, would I be justified in immediately saying that there must have been a “reason” that lead to my good fortune? (no pun intended) I mean after all, the path of life was paved directly to me winning the lottery!

    However, this type of thinking assumes that:
    1. My life “path” is paved ahead of me.
    2. At some point in the future, winning the lottery will still be deemed to be “good”.

    Needless to say – I don’t particularly agree with either assumption.

    Now, as a disclaimer – I’m a determinist, so I believe that existence is a material chain of causal events. (one event causes another event, which causes another event, which causes another, and so on.) This does not mean that existence is predetermined – that a path is already paved for you. It simply means that there are material outcomes for each causal event in my “chain” of life.

    Some things in that chain can be caused by our own actions (me buying a lottery ticket), and some can’t (the flow or air inside the chamber that lead to the balls with my winning numbers being picked). But, they are not all already laid out ahead of time.

    The cumulative results of those events is up to each individual’s own interpretation – and I believe it can only occur after the fact through self-reflection (as you seem to agree with). I may immediately believe that winning the lottery is “good”, but it may very well turn out not to be the case. (i.e. “Woohoo! I would’ve never been this happy had I not bought that ticket!” – or- “I’m miserable! I wish I had never bought that damn lottery ticket!”)

    So – that was kind of a long-winded way of saying that things don’t happen for a “reason”… things just happen – it’s what you make of them that matters.


    1. Have you ever heard of Process Theology? That was one of my favorite religion classes in college. The basic idea is that in every moment, every particle that exists (or has the potential to exist), every person, has a set of choices. For a person, it might be, do I keep writing this comment or do I go see what the kids are up to since they sound like something’s up or do I stop doing both and go make myself some coffee? For an atom, it might be sloughing off an electron or not. In process theology, the idea is that “God” is essentially love. God is a force that pulls all decisions in a “loving” direction, but each person, animal, particle can “choose” whether to follow that pull or not. Sometimes the choices are limited and neither seems like a good one, but there’s still a choice ((like the story I blogged about a couple of months ago about the prisoner during WWII who was supposed to be hanged by his friend but chose to jump off the platform himself).

      Thank you for reading my blog and thanks so much for commenting. I really appreciate the conversation!


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