A Highway and a Long-Ago Midnight
By Samir Shukla
Whoa. That was close.
The idiot in the blue Camry nearly sideswiped me on northbound Interstate 77. I veered my car quickly a few inches to the right to avoid him. I was alert enough to spot him about to connect with my car.
Everyone was driving above 70 on a packed highway, and this jerk was doing at least 90, and trying to pass others in the smallest spaces available. A lightest touch by the speedster to any of the cars and a deadly pileup would have ensued. Such randomness affects our daily lives. They are not all heart stopping, like this close call, but we brush them off, let out a sigh of relief and move on.
But what if I didn't have room to maneuver out of the way and the car had made contact?
I have always been intrigued by what if scenarios. I don't mean that in a sense of regrets about past choices. I have come to believe regrets are thorns in a mind unwilling to grow. It's more about how often things occur randomly, unexpectedly, forcing us to steer our cars, or lives, into a different lane.
I have never quite believed in destiny. Well, to be more accurate, I don't believe our lives have been pre-destined or pre-planned by some elusive higher being.
There are just so many things that happen in each day, that some sort of pre-planned life cycle put in place by some mystical power, is, well, a notion that is rendered nonsensical, at least in my current view of existence.
Our lives are marked by choices we make and those we didn't make, when our parents or guardians made them for us when we were helpless babies and later young children. Sure, we plan our lives, pursue education, launch businesses, perform religious or spiritual duties, seek love and redemption, travel, among myriad other pursuits in the daily acts of life. No matter how much we plan, though, trajectories are so often redirected by randomness of life, unforeseen events, and happenings. Other people's stupidity or negligence. Life on this day, on a highway in early August, continued its path, unaffected by the randomness of a reckless driver just barely missing my car. The trajectory didn't change much, this time.
Events that happen, choices we make, choices made by family members, local or regional or national leaders, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, all write the story of us, our children, and descendants. A slight change in plans, marrying a different person, an unintended pregnancy, a death or illness, a wrong turn on the road, arguments among family members, or bravado of power play by highly militarized nations, are among countless variations that create zigzag paths of incoming history and turn into forks in the roads yet unknown or unseen.
Grand events redirect trajectory of history, for sure, but even slight shifts in the winds can turn that trajectory into hidden alleyways of the upcoming timeline. An alternate universe if you will.
Almost every year as the summer strolls into its final weeks, during the month of August, I pause and think about a “what if" scenario. It is rather a grand alternate scenario. What if India had not been partitioned after independence? You know that famous tryst with destiny at midnight in August. The month of August marks both India's and Pakistan's independence. Both countries celebrate each day with militarized bravado (Pakistan on August 14 and India on August 15), but what has been lost, the cultural connections, along with myriad paths of commonalities, are forgotten by the still confrontational nations. It seems drunken Brits essentially drew lines in the sand, redirecting the trajectories of millions of people.
An ancient land was sideswiped by a lethargic, decaying colonialist power. This ancient land couldn't avert the resulting disaster from a failing power's speeding exit by veering away from it.
What type of world would the Indian Subcontinent be if partition had not occurred?
Maybe my maternal grandfather may have remained in Karachi (now in Pakistan) instead of being forced to shift to Amdavad in Gujarat and the family's trajectory would have been vastly different. Who knows? In another change of direction, the decision my father made to move to the United States in the early 70's redirected the trajectory of the entire family. Cataclysmic events can change the future as much as the simple decision of moving to a new destination, unfortunate words spoken in a heated moment may also have the same effect, or a close call on a highway.
Every day we act in manners that redirect not only our lives, but many others connected to us. Sometimes this is part of the regrets scenarios many people have, that gnawing feeling of what if I had done this or that? Well, we act in manners that we think work at the time we make them. At least most people do. Not all. Of course, there are so many who don't have the option of choices, as for them it maybe about daily survival.
Any prevailing wind, good or bad, creates its own path to history.
So, no, I don't think our lives are pre-destined. We are simply adaptive creatures in a whirlwind of complexities, variations, and randomness.
We are in the scenario today and work to move forward via dilemmas and choices that life continually hands us. We make the best of it, and we hope for the alertness to act and steer our cars, in essence our lives, at the last minute to avoid that reckless, speeding jerk.