The last time Id been over to my
friend Paul Lerners house to play chess, Paul, being something of a
writer, had been working on a story about good versus evil. Also, as I recall,
his cat Shandyman had jumped onto the chessboard while I was two pieces ahead
and Id had to settle for a draw. Now, perhaps somewhat unwisely, I asked
Paul if he was working on another story and he replied that he was, about free
will versus destiny.
Free will versus destiny? What do
Well, some religions believe that
people have free will, that they can make choices, as, for example, choosing
between good and evil actions. But other religions, especially Eastern ones,
believe that everything we do is predestined, that no matter what we choose to
do the outcome is the same.
I see, I said, although I
wasnt sure that I did.
So what do you
Let me see. I guess I think we
have free will. Like I chose to come out to California from New York and that
changed my life. That wasnt predestined.
But was your life really changed?
You worked in an office; you married and had two children; you lived in the
suburbs; you took up tennis; you retired and moved to our retirement community.
If youd stayed in New York wouldnt you have done pretty much the
But Id have married someone
else and maybe my children would have been different and maybe I wouldnt
have taken up tennis, Id have kept on playing handball.
Hmmm. True, the details of your
life would have been different, but the general outline would have been the
same. And you would have ended up in some retirement place, probably in
Florida, not California.
I dont know. I still think
I chose my own life.
While we were talking, Paul had set up
the chess board and we started the game. As the visitor I was first up and so
started with the white pieces and I made my usual move with the kings
pawn. Paul made his usual move with his kings pawn and our game was
underway. Neither one of us were skilled players so our games were usually
pretty even. We were about in the middle of our game when Pauls cat
Shandyman came in. Uh, oh, I said. Hes not going to
jump on the board and knock off all the pieces again, is he?
Shandyman, get out of here,
commanded Paul. As usual with a cat, Shandyman ignored this command and came
over to look at our game. Apparently finding it of no great interest, he
yawned, gave Paul a reproving look, then jumped into the rooms most
comfortable chair and closed his eyes. I guess well get to finish
our game, I said. You know Ive been thinking about what you
said about destiny and things turning out the same no matter what you did. What
about your life? Do you think it was meant to be and you had no choice in the
Mmmm. Let me think about that.
Yes, Id have probably ended up here, just like you, no matter what I did.
I left New York too and came out to California about the same time you did. I
thought I was making a big decision, but, considering who I was and the
circumstances, it was a preordained move. Id gotten fed up with New York,
too crowded, too dirty, too expensive and Id always wanted to move West
so going to California was pretty inevitable.
So thats the way your story
Yes, probably. Of course,
whatever I decide to write has already been foreordained.
After this Paul made his next move and
he hadnt seen my trap. I moved my knight so that I could take either his
castle or his bishop. Paul gave up his bishop and, being up a piece, I kept on
making exchanges until finally I won the game. I suppose I was meant to
lose, said Paul, as he tipped over his king.
I suppose so, I said. As
Id hoped, getting Paul to think about this free will and destiny thing
had distracted him so he didnt see my trap. If he thought he was destined
to lose, that was okay with me.