My well-ordered life - C.K.Mathew, C.S. Rajasthan


I pride myself in thinking that I live a fairly well-ordered life. I am punctual, my appointments are accurately scheduled, I keep my private and public selves separate. I get up at about 6 in the morning, and, soon thereafter, am out of the house for my morning walk. I get back by about seven to glance through the morning papers and then spend the next hour over files and papers that lie awaiting my attention in the bulky bastas I invariably have to carry back home from office. By the time I get through them, I am ready for my bath and my breakfast. And I leave the house by 9.15 so as to reach office well before time. It gives me a simple joy to know that I have entered my attendance through the bio-metric system before the scheduled time of start of office. At a simple level, I think I am in control of my life.

But at a deeper subliminal level, at the dark and unexplored place in my mind where the streets are not well light and the shadows hiss at me, there are fears that tell a different story. And if you think about it, you will realise how very fragile and tremulous is the arrogance of your ‘control’ over life. Have you ever considered that your very birth is but an accident of time and place and the quirks of biology? And how disease and accident, which stalks all around you, has spared you till this very moment, for no apparent reason at all. And that, for all you know, you could be next one in its sights? You slip in the bathroom and fall, injuring your spine, and you could end up a vegetable for the rest of your life. A mutated gene could turn you into a cancer patient. A car accident could deprive you of your dear ones and leave you bereft of all meaning in life. I remember once tripping on a rug, my legs skidding under me and falling heavily on my head. I lay winded and knocked out for a few minutes before realising what had happened. So what is all this talk about being in control of your life?

The fact is that, as Stephen Jay Gould put it: “We are glorious accidents of an unpredictable process…” and the random nature of the happenings around us makes us uncertain and impotent in the face of forces greater than we can understand. So it is a fact that we cannot make plans that will unfold exactly as we want it to. Some wisecrack said it well: “if you want to make God laugh, make plans!” Again, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” wrote Robert Burns in his poem ‘To a Mouse’. On a more profound note, the famed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke said: “All human plans are subject to ruthless revision by Nature, or Fate, or whatever one prefers to call the powers behind the Universe. “ For all of nature’s wonder and beauty, it is also hostile and unpredictable,” said Liam Neeson. “The course of life is unpredictable, no one can write his autobiography in advance” said a wit. To put it bluntly, “at its best, life is completely unpredictable.”

And add to this the whimsical and strange ways in which we treat each other. Our emotions and feelings sometimes get the better of us and we act in irrational ways, increasing in complexity the nature of our lives. “Our behavior toward each other is the strangest, most unpredictable, and most unaccountable of all the phenomena with which we are obliged to live. In all of nature, there is nothing so threatening to humanity as humanity itself,” said Lewis Thomas.

So what do we do as informed human beings in order to to live meaningfully amidst all this uncertainty? Of course, one could turn hedonistic and say, “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow may never come.” But that will only deny us all our dignity and purpose, for who would like to lead lives which have no significance or import. Or again, on the other hand, we could consider our situation, understand how fragile our hold on life is, and its bewildering script as the years play themselves out, and take a conscious decision to live a better life than the one we have led so far.

The redoubtable George S Patton said: “ Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” Can we learn a thing or two of how human beings have behaved in the face of occurrences that upset the normal tempo of life? Surely we can, and we should. We can be alert to the subtle changes around us that may warn us in time before disaster strikes. Surely we need not go into the unknown places of a strange city at night when we sense that the environment is not safe. Surely we can hone our skills, say, of driving our car so that our responses during an accident can help us avoid or minimise the damage. We can advise children to stay away from destructive friends who may lead them down the precipice. One can be prayerful and seek God’s blessings to shield us from dangers unknown.

And most of all, we must learn to be humble for we are not the masters of our own individual destinies. We must destroy the ego within is that often turns us into insufferable idiots. We must reach out to those who are wretched and unfortunate and strive to make their lives better. We must realize that we will come this way but once and so make it our sole task in life to render our lives meaningful not only to ourselves, but to our peers as well and touching and transforming the lives of those around us. We must realise that with the blessings we are endowed with, of ability and power and wealth and social status, we have the finest opportunity to redeem ourselves from the ambiguity of our lives, by giving, and giving more and more, to those who need it. So that their lives, to the extent possible, is freed from the curse of uncertainty that plagues all of us.

And then, is it not that very unpredictability which makes our life gloriously mysterious and full of surprises. Some are rude shocks and some are wonderful bonuses. We must learn to accept the good with the bad, the rough with the smooth, the glories with the catastrophes. That is life, isn’t it?
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