Chance dice

Chance favours a prepared mind.|
Louis Pasteur

Our lives are defined by opportunities, even the ones we miss.
Eric Roth

Significant life events seemingly happen by chance. Somehow we are at the right place at the right time and the pieces are set in motion for what later appears to be a seismic life shift. The events may initially appear to be of little significance, but in looking back, we can see them as crucial building blocks to an outcome we could not foresee but that was destined to happen.

In the last few years I have started to pay attention to these kinds of events. There is no point in trying to understand or explain them but I know I could not orchestrate these occurrences if I tried. They reflect some kind of divine choreography that is subtle and understated but definitely present.

I observed this phenomenon when my ageing parents were finding it increasingly difficult to manage in their home. When my father had a heart attack and the need to move was staring us in the face, a sequence of events unfolded. On my way to the hospital to visit him one day, I took a different route along a leafy green boulevard and noticed a vacancy for an apartment unit in a building that had always had a long waiting list. On impulse, I stopped to investigate; bumped into the superintendent; and was told there was an apartment available but I would need to see it now. Without consulting my parents and hoping against hope they would agree to move, I took the apartment. That sequence of seemingly minor decisions changed my parents’ lives. They joined a welcoming community of neighbours, living in a bright spacious apartment, surrounded by trees and a park and children playing. In short, they enjoyed a very good quality of life for their remaining years together.

Think of what had to come together at precisely the right moment to make the move happen. There had to be a beautiful apartment in a great location available. At precisely the right time of day, I had to take a different route to the hospital, see the vacancy sign, meet the superintendent and view the apartment immediately.  And all of this had to occur exactly when my parents needed it to happen.

This is not so much a story about finding an apartment as it is about the impact of chance occurrences on our lives. Barack Obama, in an interview with David Letterman, concluded that he got where he did in life because he had been lucky. Others worked as hard as he did, but the right circumstances presented themselves at the right time and eventually led him to the White House. These kinds of occurrences happen more often than we think- an alignment of conditions that is something to behold. Consider:

  • we meet the right person we need to see about a work opportunity
  • we find something we were looking for in an unexpected place
  • something that was denied to us (e.g. school, travel, work, a relationship) opens up
  • an unusual opportunity comes out of the blue

None of this seems to involve over thinking or much in the way of planning.  In fact sometimes we fall into situations or make decisions that seem impulsive. Chance occurrences are like a fork in the road, calling us to embrace or ignore a situation that at some level involves a decision, even if we are not aware of it. Barack Obama may have been lucky in encountering opportunities but he still needed to act on them.

I would love to know how to make more of these extraordinary occurrences happen and act on them when it feels like the right thing to do.  What leaves me wondering are the opportunities I have missed. Fear, hesitation, a desire to be anchored to what I know, and at some level, disbelief that something great could happen with very little effort on my part- all have likely sent many good ideas and chance occurrences on their way to someone willing to run with them.

I like to think that opportunities and chances always come around again. Those of us at midlife and beyond are struck by the realization that the landscape for chance occurrences is different than it was for us in earlier times. There are fewer years ahead to take advantage of opportunities, especially the more wacky ones. Our personal circumstances may make it difficult to follow through; obligations to others may need to be taken into account. Moreover, the pull to live an ordered life can dissuade us from doing anything other than what is comfortable or expected.

Chance occurrences are available to all of us. And so the question becomes:  Can we disregard the inclination to wait for the right moment- when we have enough money; more time available; have our fitness schedule in order, and so on?  Can we resist the nagging voice that says it’s too late to be acting on impulse? Can we see that chance occurrence as a gift that we may not need but which can make our life richer?  If so, then how do we make it happen?

It’s always easier to maintain the status quo- especially when the status quo is not bad.  Being open and prepared to accept opportunities, sometimes presented as chance occurrences, involves trusting ourselves to enter a journey in which we are led off course for a while, uncertain what the outcome will be. Always curious and delightfully surprised by an outcome we could not foresee, but was destined to happen. The wild part of me deep down says: Go for it!



2 thoughts on “Chance Occurrences and Life Changing Moments

  1. Audrey: Pleased you ended with an energized deep down inclination towards action: Go for it!!!
    – similar to your “go for it” re: the apartment for your parents!
    Life is short – so why not “go for it”.


  2. Audrey: As always, your comments are insightful and cause me to pause and reflect. Thank you for taking the time to create such high quality, relevant, and readable posts. Marg


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