By Ruth Minshull
I was always intrigued by the story: “Appointment in Samara” written by Somerset Maugham in 1933. Later two books appeared with the same title–one by John O’Hara and one by Clive Warner. I guess I wasn’t the only one fascinated by the parable.
As the account is told, a servant goes to a market in Baghdad. There he sees death, making a threatening gesture at him. He runs home, borrows a horse from his master and rides to Samara in order to avoid death. Later, the master goes to market, sees death and asks, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant this morning?”
“That was not a threat,” says death. “It was merely a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad because I have an appointment with him tonight in Samara.”
I can remember the chilling questions that haunted me after my first reading of this tale: Is this the way it is? Is our life all planned out? Do we have any real choices–any control over our destiny?
As a college student I debated the subject, endlessly, with friends. Naturally, with the pumped-up confidence of youth, we were certain that we could solve the dilemma that had perplexed great minds for centuries. But, of course, we didn’t resolve it.
Fate versus Free Will? There are no hard facts involved, only opinions, beliefs, assertions.
Eventually I chose to believe in free will. I like to think that I have some control over my life. That I can set a goal and make the hundreds of decisions that will help me attain it. I prefer believing that the guidelines and disciplines I established with my children helped to shape them, steering them to become the successful human beings they are today.
If I didn’t believe in my own determinism, I don’t know why I would get out of bed in the morning. If I were convinced that my entire life was predetermined I would essentially be an apathetic scrap of litter, waiting to see which way the wind would blow me.
Of course, some things happen to us that we didn’t anticipate, can’t control, but we can decide how to deal with them.
I’m certain that we not only make our own choices, we reap the consequences of those choices. That is, if we try to do the right thing–for ourselves and for others–we will be rewarded. If we do harmful things to others, we will suffer in a comparable way. I don’t necessarily think this is the result of divine intervention, but because when we know that we have done something harmful, we will bring about our own suffering.
Have you ever noticed how two people can undergo the same experience? Yet one will recover rather quickly, while the other moans about it for months–even years? (Some people whine about an early injustice for the rest of their lives.) I’m convinced that those who “suffer” longest are those who feel a greater need for punishment.
I lead a more meaningful life by believing that I act of my own free will, that my choices make a difference in my life and, often, in the lives of others.
Generally I’m scornful of people who can’t handle their time well, who rudely keep others waiting. Everyone in my family is punctual. When we make an appointment, we all show up within minutes of each other.
But if it turns out that I do have an appointment in Samara, I plan on being late.
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© 2009 by Ruth Minshull