I am at the Camp Kiwanee ballroom, talking with Clara’s Uncle Pete at her wedding. He tells me that’s he’s 65, too old for a lot of things but maybe not too old to convert 60,000 lines of ActionScript into HTML 5 so that his Algebra tutorial program can run on iPads. He asks my advice. I ask how many Algebra 1 students have iPads. He seems disappointed. We move on.
He tells me about his love of life in the Bay Area and his mathematical acumen. I engage him on one of my current burning hot thought puzzles: whether life is a collection of random happenings without connection or meaning, or whether a thread of destiny runs through life, like an electric current.
Uncle Pete smiles. This is reassuring, because I lost a lot of traction with Pete when he asked how much I must have loved living in San Francisco, and I gave a tight-teethed inhale and issued the litany of my ambivalence: the invisible poverty, the cultural bubble, young people with no greater ambition than to flip a flimsy start-up to ZyngAdobeMicroSoGoogle in two years, no greater scope of work than to get users to click more ads.
That doesn’t go over so well with Uncle Pete, but this new “chaos versus destiny” tack has him. He smiles and says, “life is absolutely a random string of events, and I’ll prove it. I would never have moved to the Bay Area except that during a long period when my wife and I were unsuccessfully trying to get pregnant, I took a job in San Francisco. Later that week, she got pregnant. But I would never have taken the job if she had found out even days earlier.
“So you see, it’s all random.” Uncle Pete licks his lip.
“That actually sounds like fate to me,” I say.
“Whatever,” says Uncle Pete.
“I have to dance the hora now!” I say, and join the joyful dancers in the center.
What surprises me about Uncle Pete’s insistence on the random was that his proof was framed in exactly the language of “if not for this, t’would never’ve been thus.” A clear narrative structure of cause and effect, and the effect being that he was matched with his personal Xanadu. “Sir, you tell me that music can’t exist, but you tell me in song.”
Today I feel destiny not as if it were on the clipboard agenda held by the cosmic creative director on the field day of your life (Destiny wears a visor and Bermuda shorts and crocs) but like a planet in orbital period. Fate like perihelion and aphelion. Like concentric circles of family and friends holding hands and singing, moving into the center and back, both chaotically and in perfect consonance.