Chapter 5. The Many Voices of Destiny

Science has steadily pulled back from the fullness of our experience, contracting into a subtle and pinched search for reliable mechanisms, abstract and remote. In the face of this science, it is difficult to hold onto any conviction that we bring a resolve or task or destiny with us to earth and that we converse with this destiny through all the circumstances of our lives. Such intimations of destiny as we may encounter almost inevitably fade toward the indistinct margins of our existence. Or else they erupt into flaky theories all the more understandable given that the prevailing science, with its necessary discipline, has abandoned the field.

It’s not much use arguing for or against any notion of destiny in general terms. All we can do is to look at our lives as fully and dispassionately as possible, ignoring nothing because of our presuppositions. Then we can try to hear what, if anything, speaks through the whole.

Or else look at someone else’s life. We are offered such a life— or, rather, a group of lives— in a startling and best-selling book that came out several years ago, entitled Expecting Adam and written by Martha Beck, a bright young woman on the fast track to worldly success. What speaks through the characters in her real-life tale of unexpected destiny is powerful beyond words.

Beck had always felt revulsion in the presence of retarded people. This was still true when, in the aftermath of a nearly disastrous automobile accident, ...

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