The 1998 film Sliding Doors deals with the concept of what happens when you make a decision so small it is imperceptible to you, but it changes your life forever. In Gwynie’s case it was whether to run for the tube or not, and we were able to see the consequences of both decisions, but in the real world we’re not lucky enough to find out what might have been, in real life we just have to suck it up – shit happens.
I am fascinated by this notion, along with that of knowing what the world would be like without me (thanks to ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ – but don’t worry, I have no delusions that I would be as missed as George Bailey), and, finally, the morbid desire to witness my own funeral. There’s something about these impossible scenarios which draw us in – probably because of our lack of control over them.
On the radio the other day I heard a guy called Matthew Childs who was a few seats away from the bomber on the Edgware Road train on 7th July 2005. He wasn’t supposed to be on that train. He had missed his stop, got off at Edgware Road to travel back one stop and ran to catch that fateful train, just making it. Unusually he sat down for one stop, and was therefore protected from the blast by the glass panel. A seemingly innocuous sequence of events which changed the course of that man’s life forever. His world turned on a knife edge. I’m sure many people have an ‘I was almost there’ story, but here’s mine. I was working in Baker Street at the time and as usual was running late for work. By the time I tried to get on the tube it was closed and no-one was saying anything. I finally got on a bus which was then stopped and evacuated, still with no-one knowing what was going on – all mobile phone reception had been suspended due to fear of another attack. I finally got to work and was shattered by what had happened. I soon realised that, had I not been late I would have been travelling on that train, or one near it at 8.50am, when the bomb exploded. Good job I’m a lazy bitch. At the time I didn’t really think about it, but the older I get the more random and unpredictable the world seems and the more frightened I become of what can happen when you are least expecting it. Not long after 7/7 I was in the office when a colleague, and friend, received a phone call with the news of her father’s sudden death. In seconds she went from laughing about who was making the tea to screaming, crumpled on the floor crying. Not long afterwards she moved home to be closer to her remaining family. After Matthew Childs’s recovery, he was inspired to leave a career in advertising and become a gardener, something he had always dreamed of doing, but never had the balls…and now he has a garden on display at Hampton Court. What is inspiring about life is how people consistently make good things out of shit things, hope and a desire to live fully outweighing any setbacks.
I don’t believe in God or Karma, I don’t believe that if you are a good person good things will happen to you as quite obviously this isn’t true, some of the kindest people I know have had the shittiest luck imaginable but I am fascinated by what you might call chance or fate or destiny. I do think if something is going to happen there is nothing you can do to change it, and this implies, at least in part, that I believe in fate. The moment I put my mobile phone in my back pocket that one time (here we go again) the phone was going to be taken, there was nothing I could do to prevent that. Deciding not to go away this weekend, allowed me to be in a certain place at a certain time where I was verbally abused in the middle of the street (more of that another time). But I was meant to be at both these events, I couldn’t have been anywhere else so what is the point in saying what if?
Sure, I am a big believer in making things happen, making your own luck, striving towards your future, but you only have control over the smallest of life’s problems. When it comes to the bigger things we just have to take the hand we’re dealt and make the most of it. Whatever happens, we only get one chance.
Although no good deed goes unpunished, it is much nicer to be nice than to be mean. So I will always look on the bright side of life because nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition but equally, and more importantly – if I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again;
“No man is a failure, who has friends.”
– Clarence – Angel, Second Class.