It’s sometimes tricky to work out from the map whether a ‘chemin’ or a ‘sentier’ is accessible to members of the public. The Grande Randonnée routes are marked with a big thick pink line on my map, but they are rather limited and don’t allow for the kinds of circular routes I mostly need – they’re like the big official ‘Ways’ in England (Pennine Way, Cotswold Way, North Downs Way etc etc). Today, I decided to walk for 10km then turn back and go home. I reckoned I might be able to get to the picnic tables I visited last week on day 2. So that’s where I headed.
I think I probably tramped along a path through the private part of the forest. But I’m glad I did it, because I came across my object of reflection for the day:
There was a carpet of baby oak trees. So few of them will get to be venerable or ancient. The ones who make it, will do so thanks to a whole raft of randomness. Not being stamped on; getting enough light in spite of the overhead canopy; reaching down with their roots to extract enough nutrients from the soil in competition with all the other baby oak trees, and the many other surrounding plants; not being chopped down in its youth; not blowing over or getting crushed by some other tree blowing over; not being smothered by some parasitic plant or eaten by insects…. the list of disasters waiting to happen is long.
My job as a fundraiser relies on me calmly and resiliently accepting the random. I can write the most perfect bid, fitting every possible criteria, telling the best story, and it can still be rejected. Accepting the random means stoicism and determination to send another bid. How often have I told colleagues that there probably wasn’t something wrong with our application and that it’s unlikely that a funder hates us (though I guess there may be personal feelings sometimes), it just simply came down to circumstances out of our control: our bid was received when there were loads of other requests for funding in a field that interested the decision makers more; they gave money for work in our sector last time; the decision maker’s cousin’s niece was affected by syndrome X so they gave all their money for research into that; the decision maker was feeling grumpy and couldn’t be bothered to read all the letters asking for money so ours got chucked away…. who knows the circumstances, it just means that each decision is affected by a bucketful of random!
(seeing the birds ‘wheel and call’ as they were disturbed from ‘reading every sowing’ reminded me of this beautiful song):
I find that remembering the randomness is reassuring.
So what if I don’t get offered those exciting and prestigious gigs at big European festivals! It’s probably not that I don’t deserve them (I do, after all, get to play there anyway, just not my own projects). There’s a whole series of random at play. You might want to call it luck.
I read Alain de Botton’s book Status Anxiety a while ago, but it made an impression. In our heavy fantasy of meritocracy, it can seem as if your lack of success is your own fault. de Botton though reminds us that sometimes we can just not be lucky! He reminds us that until quite recently, most people were happy just to accept their lot – the medieval peasant didn’t feel upset that he wasn’t a king, and didn’t feel that it was his fault either. I found this idea incredibly liberating. While I still suffer from feelings of low self esteem, the rigidity of my thoughts about my own worth started to be broken by this concept: luck; random.
I imagine the random too behind the coronavirus. It has certainly done a great job of reminding us of something else that random brings – acceptance of our own lack of control.
We love our illusion of being in control. I know I really do. I make spreadsheets (I love spreadsheets) and lists and plans (currently I’m making holiday plans!!!) They mostly come to pass. But not always. That’s because, I’M NOT IN CONTROL. And neither are you.
He said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?Luke 12:22-26
We can’t add a single hour to our span of life. But it’s ok not to be in control, because noone else is either really. Buddhism teaches us the path of non-resistance and acceptance as a way to diminish suffering. Christianity teaches us faith and hope, faith in God’s plan and hope for things becoming more like God’s kingdom (though that doesn’t exclude striving to be a better person in my book, making God’s kingdom now). I feel these are extremely similar, maybe even the same at heart.
Embrace the random, that’s my message.