Thursday, July 19, 2012

Was it his destiny?

Someone asked me, a few months ago, whether I thought perhaps Leif's life and death were his destiny. I thought a long time about that. What does destiny mean?

The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines destiny as:
destiny [ˈdɛstɪnɪ]
n pl -nies
1. the future destined for a person or thing; fate; fortune; lot
2. the predetermined or inevitable course of events
3. (Philosophy) the ultimate power or agency that predetermines the course of events

How can we really apply that to a life? Because something DOES happen, can we automatically assume it was "destiny" and MUST happen?

If there is such a thing as destiny, can we change or avoid it?

Is destiny the same as "fate"?

fate [feɪt]
1. the ultimate agency that predetermines the course of events
2. the inevitable fortune that befalls a person or thing; destiny
3. the end or final result
4. a calamitous or unfavourable outcome or result; death, destruction, or downfall

It seems to me that the definitions rather beg the question. If the end result IS fate or destiny, then of course it was fate or destiny, but if we define it as "inevitable" and basically preprogrammed to happen, that's a different thing all together.

Or, is there a force called destiny or fate that DOES determine our lives?

I don't believe that, at least not in the usual colloquial sense. For instance, I don't think there was some guiding hand of fate that "made" me and Peter go to the Manhattan swimming pool one August day just so we could meet. I think that was a more or less random piece of luck that could easily have happened entirely differently.

However, I DO Think there are factors that determine things in our lives, some of the biological or genetic. I think that genes not only determine or heavily influence much of our appearance, they also determine many other things about us, from talents and likes and dislikes (some of them) to propensities to diseases or risky behavior or some forms of mental illness.

It's hard for me as a mother to contemplate that I, and perhaps Peter, passed on to Leif some genetic tendency toward severe depression, but with the family history on my side, and my father's suicide, and Peter's mother's severe depression, it know it is possible, and indeed probable, that he inherited the gene for depression and that it was activated during his miserable time in the army and he fought it the rest of his life. Perhaps he WAS doomed by destiny, the destiny of that inheritance, and perhaps it was only a matter of time for him, as it seemed to have been for my father.

My dad lived 13 years longer than Leif did, but he had much to anchor him to this life that Leif never had, a wife, four children, a career, a home. Even with those things, life became empty and he said he felt "dead inside." Leif listened to Johnny Cash's sad song "Hurt," which seemed to speak of what Leif was going through.

I don't know whether Leif had an exact predetermined fate, one that would end on that day, that exact day, with him taking his life, in that exact place, with that gun. I doubt it. What I do think is that he may have had a destiny to become depressed and eventually end his life, but the how, why, when and where would have been shaped by the events of his life. Perhaps if he hadn't joined the army, perhaps if his marriage had lasted, perhaps if he'd found a career he could get his mind into, perhaps if he'd felt he had worth in this life and that he mattered, he would have lived . . . but for how long?

In the end, would he have still terminated his life as my father did? I will never know the answer to that, never know exactly why did shot himself in the wee hours of April 9, 2008, never know whether he could have been saved . . . or if he was, for how long.

I have come to believe that we all face some destiny in our lives, but that it isn't all just predetermined, that it influences our lives but doesn't just determine it. We, and events, and the people in our lives, shape the outcomes every day with each and every action and decision. Yes, many of THOSE are in some sense "determined," too, but not every detail, just the broad outlines. We paint in the strokes.

Leif suffered, but there are others who suffered worse than he did who did not and will not take their lives. What could be the difference? I believe it was inheritance, the genetic disposition to depression and suicide, and I regret that I passed that on to him.

Could things have been different? I believe they could have, but his life would have to have been different, too. He would have to have made different decisions, found a path that wouldn't have taken him down the path of depression, or found a way out of it for a second or third time. But much of that was not of his choosing . . . the things that happened to him were the RESULTS of his choices, but all of us make choices without knowing the outcomes we will face, and he was no different.

Was suicide my father's fate? Yes, because it happened. Perhaps yes because of his genetic inheritance. Yes because of the damaging depression he developed.

Can we know our fate? I'm glad we can't, though sometimes we can see some possibilities or the broad outlines we face in life. I'd rather not know if terrible times are ahead. Nor do I want the happy times lessened by knowing about them in advance.

All we can do is make the best choices we know how, forgive ourselves for the ones that turn out to be foolish or unwise, and appreciate, as much as we can, the life and loved ones we have.

I will always be glad that Leif was my son, no matter how hard it is to know he is dead, no matter how much I miss him, no matter how much I disagreed with some of the choices he made. He was my son, my handsome, brilliant, anguished son, and he brought much to my life I would never want to wish away.

The photo was taken of Leif by my sister, Sherie, in the living room of our old stone house in Manhattan, Kansas, in November 1975. Leif was 10 months old, and must about that time he started walking.

No comments:

Post a Comment