are our lives predetermined?

I consider myself a rationalist, believing that logic and circumstance (and one’s socio-economic-geographic environment) largely determines a person’s life. I mean, let’s face it: a woman born in Juba, South Sudan is not going to have the same life as one born in Toronto, Canada.

Chance also plays a part in our lives; luck, good and bad. Genetic traits as well.

This morning I awoke from a dream and a deep deep sleep with the following question in my head: What if my life had turned out differently? The dream was about the farm my parents bought way back in the 1970s, a beautiful rambling property with an old barn and a ramshackle hundred-year old house. Over the years the buildings were fixed up and the property tamed. When the drunken tenant farmer accidentally burned the barn down, Dad put a swimming pool in its place, the remaining old stone walls enclosing it in a U-shape. We went there weekends and over summer vacation; happy happy days.

Why did my mother sell that farm? What if the farm had been kept in the family and I could still go there? What if my life had turned out differently?

Hence, the eternal existential question: Why am I here? I ask this question a lot. It’s this question that triggered the writing of my memoir. I wanted to trace or map the trajectory of my life to determine why I’m in Paris and not back home in Canada. I needed to make sense of it all.

How much control do we really have over our life circumstances? In terms of external causal factors, the answer is “none”.

I think it’s good to examine our lives from time to time: how did we get here, what were the circumstantial reasons/factors that brought us here. And, most importantly, how can we live our lives to our full potential.

Here’s the farmhouse below. Dad had the exterior walls, originally brick, clad in the local fieldstone. An extension was added to the house (hidden behind the tree.)

It was a 100-acre farm, located an hour and a half drive east of Toronto, between the towns of Warkworth and Campbellford. I miss it.

By coming to Paris I believed that my world would expand, and in many ways it did, but it also shrank. I lost many things.

Here’s a brief excerpt from my book –

As for my father, he was on his way to fulfilling his next dream of buying a hobby farm. We had spent a year of Sundays cruising the back roads of rural Ontario and visiting farms for sale, all of them derelict and available for a song. The homestead that he eventually purchased sat on a hundred acres of woodland and fallow fields, set back from a gravel road. A long driveway led to a brick house dating from the late 1800s. Two sheds and a barn overlooked a pond.

“John is realizing his ambition to become a gentleman farmer,” said my mother to a friend.

“What’s a gentleman farmer?” I asked, picturing a man, suited and tied, sitting on a tractor.  “It’s someone who farms for pleasure rather than for money.” she replied.

One day at the height of summer when the crops and foliage were in full bloom and the trill of crickets filled the air, my mother and I stood knee-deep in a field of goldenrod, she clutching the bottom of a rickety ladder, me sneezing and rubbing my hayfever-inflamed eyes. From the ladder’s top rung my father stood, hammering a wooden name plate onto a tree at the foot of our driveway. The words engraved into the name plate were ‘Fern Hill Farm’.

“But there are no ferns around here…” I said between sneezes.

“It’s the name of a poem, dear,” said my mother, sighing. “Your father’s favourite poet is Dylan Thomas.”  Later, I read the poem entitled Fern Hill and agreed that it was fitting.

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

Dylan Thomas, Welsh poet, 1914 – 1953

12 thoughts on “are our lives predetermined?

    • And I look forward to finishing my book! It’s taking far too long … but I have a full-time job and work only on weekends. A pleasant weekend to you. Cheers.

  1. Great question and impossible to answer. Religious people may think they know something about Destiny, but it is all conjecture, the stuff of philosophical dorm room speculations. I have come to the conclusion that the purpose of Life is to Live it, to do no harm, to do the best you can for yourself and others. In the words of the Jewish sage Hillel, “‘That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary.” He also said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when?”

    • You’re right, Sherman, it’s absolutely impossible to answer. But my goodness how this query – our existence and is it fated – has become the lifeblood (and death, too) of religions, fanatics, philosophers and laymen. It’s a big question. The only words that I will utter before I breathe my last breath are this: “I did the best I can.”

  2. What a beautiful property, it’s understandable how you can miss it. Thanks for the Dylan Thomas excerpt, our fave poet too.

    • Thanks for commenting, D&D. Dylan Thomas died far too young, a huge loss to anyone who can read.
      Have a lovely weekend.

  3. Absolutely beautiful, Juliet. I have often expressed my gratitude for being born where I was and not in some place where there is constant war and upheaval. The worst thing I have to live through is the next days until the horrible orange man is gone.

    • That horrible orange man and his whole rotten tribe! Never to be seen again, we hope. Oh, how you Americans (well, those of you who voted Democrat) have suffered these past 4 years. Change is on the way. Hallelujah!

  4. This was absolutely beautiful Juliet. I love your reminiscence of the farmhouse and the contentment it conjured and the photos that accompanies it with. I understand these questions and curiosities about destiny too.. I am
    Of a religious culture which believes that some basic lines are mapped out, but our free will takes us through our own life design. In the age I am currently, I just wonder if things will get better or worse.. probably both for different things. You live a full and meaningful life, I think that anyone who has taken risks to relocate and rebuild and stay independent, are pretty much on the winning ticket. Of course though wins and losses perpetually co-exist – Im at peace when I believe the wins outweighs the loss. Looking forward for your book!

    • Thanks so much for your warm comment and compliment. I often think it must be comforting and reassuring to, as you say, ‘have a belief that some basic lines are mapped out.’ Because if not, then it’s chaos. And let’s face it, we are living in a very chaotic world right now, don’t you think? (Sadly, man-made.)

      I’d like to be reassured that amidst the chaos there’s … not a grand plan, but some sort of structure or higher (non-religious) order that plays a role in our lives and in the universe. I admit that I marvel at our solar system: the order of the planets, the moons and stars; their constancy and how they continue their steady unchanging orbit around the sun and the other stars in the wondrous cosmic sky above our heads. I believe that it’s only up there that I am awed.

      Take care and keep safe.

    • Oh, Theresa. That family farm, no longer ours, is a real heartbreak. Strangers live there now. It was my father’s dream, and we enjoyed the place for over two decades. But when he passed away in the 1990s, my mother just couldn’t go there anymore; too sad for her. Anyway, it’s all in my book (which I’m trying to finish.)
      Have a pleasant Sunday.

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