Is our life predetermined and unchangeable or do we have a choice in the matter? One of the classic themes in literature is the eternal battle of fate vs. free will. Authors and philosophers across the ages have tried to pin down if humans have the ability to change their fortune or if we are destined for the lives we lead. And that’s what we’re hoping to tackle in this Freewrite Friday. (I’m back at school now, ladies and gents, so we’re tackling the tough stuff now!)
I think we’d all like to think that we have the ability to change our future. No one wants to feel like a puppet of the Fates; no one wants to feel out of control of his or her own destiny. On one side, we want to believe that we really did earn all the beauty and greatness that comes our way in life. We want to believe that we deserve all the love and success because of our own actions, our hard work and dedication.
However, I think, even more deeply, we want to believe that we can change the outcomes in the darkest moments of our lives. We like to think that if we just eat healthier, fight harder, love deeper, “stretch out our arms farther…” (Gatsby reference for those of you keeping track) that we will be able to will the world to spin the way we want it to. But we all know that this isn’t true, that it never works like this in real life. There is something stronger at work than simple human will.
This week’s Freewrite Friday asks you to write three different prompts. Choose one, two, or all three. I think any one of these would make a great personal essay or even a start to a piece of fiction. Our prompt is from Poets & Writers:
Mankind has often wrestled with the relationship between fate and self-determination. Write about a time in your life when your inner strength and perseverance changed the outcome. Next write about a time in your life when you believe fate played a role. Then write an essay about how this complex dynamic is manifested in your characters and/or creative nonfiction.
So, I gave it a go and attempted to tackle the second portion of the prompt: Writing about a time in my life when I believe fate played a role. I reworked an older piece for this freewrite, but I think it hit the theme pretty nicely.
Some Background: Sarah had us all over her house for a book club on The Night Circus. If you’ve read Erin Morgenstern’s masterpiece, you know that one of the substantial secondary characters works as a fortune teller. So, of course, we had to have some harmless fortune telling using tarot cards. However, the night for me was one that I will always remember as a night when the cards refused to lie, a night when no matter how we cut them, I couldn’t fight fate.
Fate and Fortune
“Ask a question and choose a deck.”
“I think we all know what my question will be.”
I choose the black and white tarot card deck that Meryl brought, its simple design radiating more energy somehow than the other two. I need a simple answer to a simple question so I’ll use a simple deck. The deck was her mother’s from the 70s, so it seemed fitting to use fortune passed down from a mother to a daughter. Maybe it will be lucky. Maybe I’ll be lucky.
I concentrate on my question.
Meryl shuffles the deck as we sit in the near darkness of Sarah’s basement. The vulnerable light of the candles illuminates the minimalistic black and white star bursts on the back of the cards. She shuffles. I cut. She begins the fortune telling.
The flip of the cards, the satisfying smack against the glossy table, rings in the hushed room. We are way too into this. It is only a game, only chance. A game for women with scarves on their heads pretending to control the future. A game for women who miss their adolescence and have seen The Craft one too many times. However, not for the last time, the seven of us take this seriously. We take it all so seriously.
With each distinct smack of the cards, Meryl reads my fortune aloud. Stacking card upon card, she places them in the formation the pamphlet tells her to. She reads each meaning and with each smack my cheeks redden, my wine disappears more from my glass.
The smacks gradually lighten, becoming tentative as Meryl reads negative card after negative card. Her voice wavers as the uncomfortable concern of my friends saturates the room. Finally she places the card down I knew was coming.
“Of course.” Death was on the table now. This wasn’t a game anymore.
I take another sip of wine. Now, each card is punctuated with my cynical repetition of “Of course.” Of course I would get these desperate cards. Of course I would because my question asks too much. Of course this situation is hopeless. Of course.
The last card slides onto the table with barely a whisper. It is barely a graze of the cheek. The Ten of Swords—a bloody body stabbed—falls onto the face of Death. The clouds above him looming dark and foreboding, weighted with the rain of the coming storm. And with this, his blood washes off the card onto the glossy table covering Meryl’s hands. She reads the description. Fidgets and wrings her hands. They slide with the combination of sweat and blood.
They tried to explain it away. Tried to spin the cards to be positive, to be hopeful. I knew better. Of course this is how it will end.
I left them quickly and went into the backyard to let out the breath I was holding in. I exhaled out nicotine tinted clouds into the cold air of the February night. Under the pergola, under the buoyant, twinkling starred lights, I break. I fracture like bone.
I close my eyes and ten swords pierce my mother’s lungs, her liver, her ovaries. They sever her from me. I cannot remove the swords without letting the hot blood run and puddle around us. So, I just hold her dry, cracked hands in her hospital bed while trying to spin it all to a positive, trying to spin it all to a good fortune.
I look up through the bare wisteria branches at the stars. I whisper my desperate question again “Will she be okay?” to see if the stars have a better answer than the cards.
Of course, she won’t. Of course.
Welp, when dealing with such heavy topics, it was bound to get dark sooner or later. Share some of your own freewrite below!
Lit & Love,