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The Pretense of Accidents. What???

I can’t tell you how many time in my life I have faced the proverbial fork in the road.

Honestly, I gave up counting. The frustrating thing is I never see them coming. There I am, going about my life, when seemingly out of nowhere I am stopped dead in my tracks, staring straight into a decision I know will impact the direction of my life.

Some of the forks are big decisions, some are small decisions, but each fork means I must choose one thing and leave something else behind.

In this position, stuck in place, afraid of making a wrong decision, I typically begin by lamenting my fate. Why is this happening? Is life really this hard? How can I be here again? Do I really have to choose?

Then I create the pros/cons list in my head, trying to objectively identify the preferred choice. With my head spinning, because there never really is an obvious safe or best choice, I appeal (ok bargain) with Creation for help.

With each fork in the road, as I stand paralyzed in place and desperately try to figure out my next step, the only thing that seems real is the Sirens’ song in my head. In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous creatures who lured sailors with their enchanting music and singing voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. If the forks in the road are actually a test of my wisdom, experiences, faith, and resolve, the wrong decision clearly means I will be shipwrecked and stranded in life.

But it is all a matter of perspective. Isn’t that always the case? It just never seems like it at the time.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by Sharon Salzberg where she told the story of being told by a teacher to “Follow the pretense of accidents.” The pretense of accidents? I took a while to unpack and understand the intent of that statement. I finally sorted it out to mean that accidents, while they seem random, are not as they appear. Simply put, there are no accidents.

Always one to test a new maxim, I sat down and made a list of what I perceived to be the accidents in my life. Spotting them was easy enough. The improbable, the unplanned, the unintended twists and turns my life has taken to bring me to this very point where I need to be, though I never would have imagined I would be. Right here and Right now. Hmmm.

If you are like me, you would not be able to resist the internal appeal of playing the “What if?” game with your list of accidents. What if I had taken the job in Boston instead of staying in Chicago? The Boston job presented itself, it wasn’t anything I went looking for. Would Boston have been a bad place to live and work after all? Was there really a bad choice to be made? Both jobs were good and both cities had a lot for me to experience.

I played this game over and over again until it finally dawned on me—the “accidents” in my life, the events I could not predict, that just came up or came out of nowhere, were masquerading as forks in the road. No wonder I was never able to see them coming or predict them. How do you go looking for an accident that is not really an accident? What do you do with that? You follow the pretense of accidents.

But where do they lead?

Looking back at the accidents in my life, I saw how the unknown and unplanned events that caused forks in my road were never about leaving something behind. The choices were not between something good or bad. The choice was not a test.

If you change your perspective and turn the forks around, you will see it.

The forks simply created the foundation of who I am and who I was becoming. The forks made me stronger. The forks created my own tree of life.

First, we make a choice. Then our choices make us.

—Andy Andrews


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