I once watched a movie called Sliding Doors, which had a storyline that split into two parallel realities. In one, the main character catches her train and arrives home early; in the other, she misses the train by seconds and has to wait for the next one. That three-minute delay alters the trajectory of her life, and the film follows the twin strands to their wildly different conclusions. Which version, I wondered idly as the credits rolled, was her true destiny?
Back then, I didn’t really think about things like “destiny.” In the West, the concept of Fate is much loved by romance novelists and starry-eyed teenage girls, but we’re conditioned to take a more proactive approach to life. Leaving things to Fate tends to go against the grain.
And yet I wrestle with the existence of Fate around every anniversary of the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia. Like many, I question the cosmic justification of an occurrence that brought about the deaths of over 200,000 people in 13 countries. But contemplating the whys of the tsunami is more than a casual philosophical exercise for me; it’s also deeply personal. Because we were supposed to be lounging on a beach in Phuket that day.
Depressed at the prospect of our first expat Christmas without our extended family, Chef Boyardee and I decided to ditch any semblance of a traditional Yuletide, and opted instead to revel in sun and sand. A last-minute invitation to spend the holiday with my aunt and uncle in Australia derailed those plans and possibly saved our lives.
When we awoke on Boxing Day and turned on the news, the pictures that scrolled across the television screen were mind-numbing in their devastation. It was hard to look at the piles of rubble where homes and businesses once stood; harder still were the scenes of unbelievable human tragedy: image after image of the dead, the injured, the grieving.
Many of the survivors asked “why me?” but after seeing a brief clip of the resort we’d planned to stay at — or rather, what was left of it — I was consumed by thoughts of “why not me?”
What was it that caused us to divert our course and escape disaster? Was it Fate? Or merely a collection of random, insignificant events that just happened to add up to the pleasant family Christmas I’d craved? History is surely littered with people just like us: the travellers who found the Titanic’s departure date too inconvenient and bought a ticket on the Olympic instead, or the New Yorkers who slept in on September 11, 2001 and woke up to a vastly changed world.
I still don’t know why things played out as they did, but I do know that life has seemed a bit more precious from that day on. Unlike those who were directly affected by the tragedy, I don’t think about the tsunami every day. But on December 26th, when I remember the scores of people who lost their lives on the beaches, I give a little prayer of thanks for whatever or whoever spared us.