OVER THE PAST 18 MONTHS, we’ve grappled with the recognition that life is often unfair, subject to forces beyond our control. But are we always fortune’s fools, tethered to the vagaries of the stars – or can we take control of our destinies through the choices we make?
It’s a question as old as astrology, and it’s colouring our experience of the pandemic, forcing us to consider how much our personal actions figure into our future survival.
Personally, I believe in perseverance, determination, knowledge and the power of the imagination to seek solutions even during seemingly impossible situations – such as the one we’re all living through now. These attributes stand out in many of the York alumni you will read about here, in the Fall 2021 edition of The York University Magazine. Take, for instance, Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, tasked with piloting the city through the current health crisis, and Nikoletta Erdelyi, a burgeoning writer who consistently challenges fate (in the form of a rare congenital disease) by living creatively and sensually while confined to a wheelchair.
But are we actually the authors of our success? How much of what passes as success is governed by external influences? Should we count ourselves lucky when things work in our favour? I can’t quite decide.
Boethius, the sixth-century philosopher who, while down on his luck, wrote about life on the Wheel of Fortune – up one minute, down the next – proposed that being true to ourselves and trusting in reason can save us from falling from hope into ruin. But then there’s the equally persuasive thinking of Thomas Hardy and F. Scott Fitzgerald, literary geniuses whose romantic destiny novels show how fate’s inconstant hand can completely overwhelm even the best-laid plans, destroying people’s lives.
One way to parse the existential dilemma is to see life as a commixture of chance and free will, a card game with rules attached. Our stories on teen psychology in the time of COVID and on Robert Rotenberg, a lawyer who writes legal thrillers on the travails of Toronto’s haves and have-nots, exemplify that. In Rotenberg’s bestselling books, you play the hand given you and whether you win or lose depends on circumstances often beyond your control. And yet you stay in the game. Why? Because just maybe you’ll get lucky. You’ll get to live another day. ■