The logic of a Monday-morning quarterback in the 'If only I had turned left' game of life

There is a popular school of thought, sometimes called kismet, which holds that everything is preordained.

Que sera sera. What will be will be.

As a philosophy, it ranks with Monday-morning quarterbacking.

Have you ever noticed that in advance of the Super Bowl, or any great sports event, or any event whose outcome can't be predicted, like World War II, there are always experts who tell us exactly how it is going to come out, and why; and after the event, which doesn't happen to come out that way at all, they explain exactly why it turned out the way it did; their reasoning is no sounder than it was in the first instance, except that now it is Monday morning, and they are explaining the obvious.

Life is a great spinning-out; a dynamic scenario so complex that if the origins of any single act, however trivial, could be traced back toward its seminal acts, its first causes, those causes quickly would become astronomical in number.

We hear Alice complain, "Oh, if only I hadn't gone to Martha's last night, I wouldn't have found Arthur in her arms, and I wouldn't have shot him, and he'd be alive, and everything would be all right."

We feel guilty because something we did or didn't do seems to have caused some event that it actually had very little effect on, if any.

If Alice hadn't visited Martha, the affair with Arthur would have gone on, driving Alice ever deeper into degradation. Sooner or later Martha would have called on her and said, "I want you to divorce your husband--he loves me." And then Alice would have shot Martha. Which would have been much less forgivable than shooting Arthur in flagrante delicto .

After my recent medical escapade, my wife and I realized that if she hadn't happened to be home that Sunday when I was stricken, she wouldn't have been able to call the paramedics. They wouldn't have got me to the hospital in time and I'd have died.

And ever afterward she would say, "Oh, if only I'd been home that Sunday morning, Jack would still be alive."

But she was home. It is easy to think of that as kismet. Something that had already been worked out in the big scheme, programmed, so that she really had no choice. It was her destiny to be home.

Actually, she had been planning to go to a nursery that morning, and she was dressing, but had put it off a few minutes to feed her birds. If we looked, we could find a dozen ordinary reasons why she hadn't already gone; none of them taking great acts of will or in any way smacking of kismet.

It's a roll of the dice.

Sometimes when I go to work I decide to take a different route from my usual one; and I almost never fail to think, "Why do that? Why deviate from what works? You'll probably have an accident, or get a ticket."

What nonsense it is. I know many people who seem to live ever more circumscribed lives. They go in ever smaller concentric circles, until sooner or later they catch up with themselves from behind. The truth is, I suspect, that they are afraid to deviate from their orbit; from the known. They are afraid to tempt fate by introducing unfamiliar acts into their routine.

They know that as soon as you open a door it opens into uncountable rooms, into possibilities as numerous as the stars; it is a glimpse into infinity, like looking at oneself in a barbershop mirror that is mirrored in another mirror and so on and on.

It is possible that when you leave your house this morning, and it looks like rain, and you go back inside to get your umbrella, the extra minute it takes you may change your life and the lives of innumerable people. So you are likely to think, better not go back, God only knows what random forces might be let loose. Don't rock the boat.

Right now I can hear men pounding about on my roof. It isn't what I had in mind when I decided to do a bit of remodeling. But it is a direct result of that idea.

As long as we were redecorating, my wife said, why not change the curtains. Good idea. But I noticed that the wall where the new curtains would have to be hung had been warped and blistered by water damage. I would have to call a plasterer.

It is not easy to get a plasterer to do a small job. Finally I got a man who had done some work for us in the past. He was busy but he came up. Couldn't be done, he said, until we had some work done on the roof. That was the trouble--water leaking through the roof and down the wall. We told him to go ahead and get in a roof man.

The roof men came and got some work done. Then the rains came. The house leaked from the holes they had made. Then came the dry spell. The roofers finally came back, and are pounding up there now. Not even God knows where it will end.

But you can't let well enough alone. You can't live by routine. You have to step in and change things. Put in some input. Keep the dynamo going.

What was Alice doing with that gun in her purse in the first place?

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