Sometimes it is possible, and necessary, to be your own divine intervention.You’ll have to forgive me for indulging in a little vagueness: The story that follows is only barely mine to tell and I don’t want to violate anyone’s privacy in talking about it. This is what happened. A relative of mine, going through extreme financial difficulties (largely of her own making, to be honest), just received a substantial windfall from a friend. The friend sent a letter, which included the line “miracles happen,” and an excessively generous check. I was the first person she told about this gift and she passed a bit of it on to me as a token of appreciation. So it was a very good day for all and sundry.
I just have one little objection: either this isn’t a miracle or we need to redefine the term.
There is an impulse, whenever something good happens, to call it a lucky break, a miracle, a divine gift, and so on. I have a problem with this seemingly innocent and cute sentiment. It perpetuates the myth that our lives are out of our hands. It suggests, deeply, unconsciously, that we are not responsible for either our successes or failures. This is, in part, tied to the revolting cultural demand that we not take too much pride in doing well, being clever, and making shit happen. It takes an ugly turn then: you “just got lucky.” Somebody was on your side. (Whatever Tim Tebow’s reasons for his overt displays of faith, I object intensely to the sports commentators who seem to buy into the idea that Tebow’s god of choice doles out winning games as a sign of favoritism. If there is a divine force and it is petty enough to bless or condemn football teams and their season results, I for one want no part of it.) Don’t get too high on yourself, because it was all the work and will of [insert entity here].
What happened to my relative was not the result of a miracle. It was, originally, the result of business and social dealings that got the friend the money in the first place. After that, it was the result of saying to a friend, “I’m having troubles with X, Y, and Z right now.” She did not ask for help (though I’m a big fan of doing that, too) and she certainly did not ask for money. Sometimes we forget about the power of just acknowledging our problems, out loud, to another person. Just as we’re not supposed to make too much of a fuss when we get something really right, we’re also not supposed to make too much noise when we’re in trouble. Stiff upper lip and all that. Don’t cry out for help, even if you’re drowning.
I’m as much a fan of stoicism as I am of excessive humility, which is not enough to fill your left shoe.
Now, the objection I anticipate is, what about serendipity? What about right place, right time? Here’s the thing about that. If you never leave the house, you can’t possibly get to the right place at the right time. It’s hard for the universe to hand you opportunities if you don’t do everything you can to meet it halfway. In the past, my relative has gotten herself into similar binds, but kept quiet about it, until she unexpectedly announces that she has to do something she never wanted to because that’s the only way out of her situation. She kept her struggles to herself and missed every opportunity when someone could have helped her. This time, she put herself in a position where someone who had the capacity to help her knew that help was needed.
I can see how, when help comes when so desperately needed, this convergence might look like a miracle, something bestowed by a higher power. But it just isn’t so.
If you put yourself in a position to received needed help, to meet the right people, to get the things you want, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when that’s just what you get. Neil Gaiman recently responded to a fan’s question about the necessity of attending conventions and workshops on the path to being published. He said, “If you want to meet people, you go to where those people are.” He’s making a case for connecting to people just because they’re doing the sort of things that interest you as well and that’s a good place to find friends. (As opposed to aggressively marketing yourself to people just for the possible job opportunities.) But he’s also, I think, making a case for doing the work yourself and then letting the universe meet you halfway if it will. If you don’t do the work of being a writer, for example, then having a friend who’s suddenly in need of a writer for a project won’t do you any good. You won’t have put yourself in a position where you can make any use of that “lucky break.” What could have been an opportunity ends up only being a circumstance, devoid of potential value, if you aren’t ready to make the most of it.
You make your own miracles whenever you do all the work that is in your power to do. It’s amazing just how much opportunity is out in the world, ready for the taking. When those two sides converge, it will look like a miracle, especially to anyone who doesn’t know just how much work went into making it happen before the lucky break ever came along.