“I can control my destiny, but not my fate. Destiny means there are opportunities to turn right or left, but fate is a one-way street. I believe we all have the choice as to whether we fulfill our destiny, but our fate is sealed.”–Paulo Coelho
“Strange things blow in through my window on the wings of the night wind and I don’t worry about my destiny.”–Carl Sandburg
“Destiny is something not be to desired and not to be avoided…a mystery not contrary to reason, for it implies that the world, and the course of human history, have meaning.”–Dag Hammarskjold
Sometimes, I worry about my destiny, as though I may be sitting on the sidelines and might somehow miss my opportunity to pursue it. Some might say if you just calmly accept your destiny it will come. I’m not entirely certain that I desire it, but sometimes, I can’t seem to push myself to the place where my destiny seems to be waiting. It’s not that I’m avoiding it necessarily, but I’m concerned that some crisis may precipitate it or that a crisis may result from going toward it. I can’t seem to clearly envision a future that will result in some equitable resolution of whatever destiny holds in that future. One of the main stumbling blocks for me is when I examine the lives of others whom I admire–authors, poets, philosophers, scientists–people who embraced their destiny and who suffered greatly as a result.
One example of such a life which brought this idea to the point for me was a recent reading of biographical research regarding author Richard Brautigan, who became internationally famous for his novels, poems, short stories, and nonfictional pieces written in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s. In one account by Claude Hayward, an early printer of Richard’s poems who worked with him in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, he described him in this way:
“Richard was an imposing figure, tall in stature with long, straw-blond hair and a walrus mustache, and always dressed in that heavy range coat, and worn boots that had seen the prairies…Richard was an observer, an acute, bemused one with a keen eye for the absurd and the surreal.”
My recent investigation of his life in San Francisco and elsewhere brought out revelations that were quite surprising. His early success as a writer brought him international fame and, for a time, great fortune. He published his first truly successful novel, “Trout Fishing in America,” in 1967 and it became an instant sensation, selling over four million copies worldwide. He was a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, and along with his other poems and articles, brought him to the forefront of the writers of his day.
Unfortunately, along with his success came a number of difficult struggles in his personal life. He was married several times, and had a fair number of difficulties maintaining relationships with those who knew him well also. In a 1985 tribute to Brautigan by Lawrence Wright in Rolling Stone, Wright describes Brautigan’s harrowing descent into a host of personal problems that made it difficult for anyone to handle being around him:
“He had a difficult habit of testing his friends, but he was even more demanding of his lovers. He pushed them away, he was abominable, he wanted unconditional love and forgiveness. They put up with it, some of them, because he genuinely valued a woman’s intelligence. ‘That appealed to women,’ one of his girlfriends recalled. ‘It was a trade-off.’ It became a liability to be seen with Richard.”
He struggled for years with alcohol which eventually hampered his writing efforts, led to a lessening of his fame as an author, and contributed to his decline into near obscurity toward the end of his life. He continued to write up until his excesses and deeply personal challenges that he created, led him to take his own life in 1984 at age 49.
In a very strange and unusual coincidence, of which I only recently became aware, I happened to be in San Francisco in 1974 when Richard Brautigan actually lived there. Come to think of it, I could have easily passed him on the street without realizing it. I had been walking the streets of that great city many times, spending a fair amount of my spare time on weekends exploring and visiting many different parts of the city by the bay. In one of my earliest visits there, while casually walking along the streets I happened by a photography shop window with a sign that read, “Make a poster of yourself!” Posters were very popular in early seventies and I couldn’t resist the invitation to try it.
At the time, I was attending the Defense Language Institute, a federally funded language school in Monterey, so I had with me one of the current textbooks from the course, as well as a copy of a book by Brautigan called, “On Watermelon Sugar.” I was already well into the reading of it and wanted to continue reading it on my trip, so when I walked into the studio and spoke to the photographer, I expressed to him that I was at a truly pivotal moment in my life, and how I wanted the image to reflect just how important it was to me. I insisted on holding the two books since they were representative of where I was in a broad sense, both psychologically and geographically at that moment. Also at this time, like many of my fellow members of the U.S.military, I was a casual smoker, and as a young man I thought holding a cigarette would make me look “cool,” so I included that also. I sat for about a half dozen photos and then had to go away for about an hour or so while the processing took place. When I returned, I was handed six small prints of the images to look at and I selected the one that appears above.
As an impressionable young man of twenty-one years, Brautigan’s writings seemed to speak directly to my experiences and the chaos of my life as a soldier in training. Looking back at those times now, some forty plus years later, I have to admit that I never once thought of them in any other way than as simply a part of my experience, and only within the context of the actual events themselves. It was quite a surprise to discover, after all this time, that an author for whom I had great admiration, and whose work resonated so well with me in those days, was very likely somewhere nearby as I traveled the path of my own destiny.
Destiny, it seems, may lead us inexorably on a path to fulfillment of some purpose of which we may or may not be fully aware. It also may take all our strength to sustain ourselves along that path, but we all must discover that strength within us if we are to succeed.
Passion drives the winds of fate
To uncertain shores and fatal flaws;
True love brings us forward and home,
Into the gentle comfort of destiny’s flow.
–from my poem, “Uncharted Hearts,” 2014