Monday, March 10, 2014

Chutes and Ladders: Part One

There's a game my brother and I used to play as kids, called the Game of Life.

In this game, you spin a dial to determine how quickly you progress through certain life phases, such as college, marriage, and childrearing.  I haven't played it since I was about seven, and honestly don't remember the game too much, but it brings to mind a serious question: how much of life is purely chance.  In the end, is there some sort of cosmic force spinning a dial, or do we really determine our own fates.  This blog post on the element of chance will come in two parts (over two weeks), and this part will focus on chance in life.

I really began thinking of chance recently, after listening to an NPR study on how chance affects art.

The story can be heard here:
Ultimately, the idea discussed is that art popularity (including writing) may be governed in very large part by chance and coincidence.  For a writer, this is discouraging.  Yet, I started to wonder.  Is art the only element affected by chance, or is life itself an enormous roll of the dice?  I've never been too sure of fate or destiny, but is the opposite possible?

This past summer, I played the game Chutes and Ladders with a camp student I was working with.  It was the first time I'd played as an adult.  My initial reaction was this game is utterly stupid. I mean, really, I'm rolling a die, and don't make a single choice.  The die roll decides if I climb a ladder of success or come tumbling down a chute of despair.  I peddle along this path, experiencing life's greatest joys and sorrows without any semblance of control, and at the end someone wins.  Is that all life's about??

And yet, what if life really is entirely up to chance?  Sometimes lately, I've wondered.  My life has mostly been joys.  I've achieved all of my dreams.  I'm teaching in a job I love, my first novel will be released soon, and I'm marrying my soul mate.  Still, those chutes keep appearing.  Rachel's cousin Courtney died last weekend.  Courtney was only 17, yet died possibly from drugs.  At the same time, John (mentioned last post) remains in critical condition in the hospital, and even today one of my other students was taken out of school in an ambulance.

Is there someone up above rolling a die, and pushing me across spaces on the board?

I believe that life is a blend of chance and choice.  Yet, the truly important thing is not what happens, but how we react.  Despite calamity, focusing on future joys (the "ladders" on the way) keeps us optimistic, and helps us move past the occasional disappointments.  Next week, I will discuss adding chance to something deeply planned out: a novel....

1 comment:

  1. I'm a believer in fate. I can't help it; I have to have faith that the stupid choices I made in the past led me right where I was meant to be. My "now" is wonderful, but I wouldn't be here without going through the painful bits.