By: James F. O’Neil
The older we get, we seem aware that we are often powerless or our actions are futile: We control so little in our lives. (A psychology teacher told me he believed that 98 percent of what happens to us we have had no control over.)
Do we not have control? Is there such a thing as “luck”? How do we come upon “opportunities”? Do we really get to “choose”?
A closed door could be a fitting metaphor or symbol for those looking for an occasion to open The Door to Opportunity when She knocks.
As I look back upon my life experiences, one such closed door did not open for me.
In my last semester of college, I was working as an orderly in a hospital near Chicago. I had been allowed to work with the hospital pathologist, assisting him with autopsies, on call any time of the day or night. The doctor taught me the uses of the instruments. He showed me life’s wonders and sometimes the powerlessness of medicine. There I was, a twenty-one-year-old English major, fascinated, exploring the human body. I was assisting a medical genius who taught me so much in those hours we spent together in the hospital morgue.
His genius made me so aware of how shallow I was. At times, we had discussed my going to medical school. I lamely made excuses to him. I had thought about it, for sure. It was part of reality as I went to work; it gnawed at me often. “Do you want to try medicine? You can, you know. Join the Navy,” he prompted me. That was a possibility I could seriously consider.
I went about my duties at the hospital. I was interested, and even eager, about what he had said.
February: My resolve was carefully fashioned. I would enlist. I went to the post office and the recruiter’s office to obtain information and brochures. That’s all I did. I would enlist, I thought. I read keenly, more intent.
At the end of a certain week, I would go back to the recruiter and enter the Corpsman Program.
My college training would help me; I could choose my field, probably be commissioned sooner. The Friday could not come soon enough. My determination was solid; nothing could sway me.
On that Friday morning I left for work, I knew the day was scheduled to be different from any other in my life.
I would be finished at three-thirty in the afternoon. By three-forty-five, I was walking down the steps and along the lower hallway of the post office. I approached the Navy Recruiter’s door. I turned the handle. Locked.
I waited. I knocked. Nothing. No sounds from within. I was locked out. My courage faltered.
What now? I asked myself. It would be a long, trying weekend, not at all as I had planned. I left the hallway dejected. Monday would have to come! I had to have another chance. Who locked that door to my future?
That door to the navy recruiter would never open to me–never.
On the following Monday, I would work as planned, though I did hope to contact the recruiter to make a sure-thing appointment. At mid-morning, however, I was called to the phone.
The conversation was with a teacher at a local high school, trying to find a long-term English substitute for the remainder of the term. “Are you interested?” The man and the principal were desperate. (A college classmate had told this teacher about me and my major.)
“I am planning to join the Navy. Sorry.”
“Would you wait a day or two to think it over? Could you talk to the principal? An interview? Please?”
What was happening with this phone call? What about my great plans for a medical career?
“Please. You can always see the recruiter.”
I never saw the recruiter–never.
Two days later I was being interviewed.
The temporary position did not materialize. But I was guaranteed a full-time position in the fall, teaching ninth-grade English.
“Will you say Yes?”
“Yes.” I accepted.
I never saw the recruiter–never. I never joined the Navy. I never became a corpsman.
I think so very often of that locked door, what it did and did not open for me.
And medical school?
Chance, fate, Providence–or “luck”–saw fit to it that the recruiter was not present for me, then changed my life in ways that I cannot count or recount.
What I do know, though, is that one instance, so trivial and insignificant as it may seem, was outside my control. However, I could have said No to the caller. I could have stopped it all right there. I had no control over the circumstances that ultimately brought me to that point of saying “I accept.”
“Choose wisely,” I recall from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). The Grail Knight tells us we MUST choose.
Faced with the options presented to me, I did choose.
I chose wisely….
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**An interesting book to look at on the subject of chance in our lives, see There Are No Accidents: Synchronicity and the Stories of Our Lives by Robert Hopcke (1998).
© James F. O’Neil 2013