Fate, and Other Nonsense

Why everything doesn't happen for a reason...

Few things confuse me as much as when someone says that ‘everything happens for a reason’.

In fact, whenever I hear it - or, more commonly, see it in an Instagram post about the loss of a job, the end of a relationship, or another slice of random misfortune - I feel like it’s a strange way of thinking about life.

On one hand, it’s undoubtedly true. We live in a universe governed by the laws of cause and effect; one that obeys the second law of thermodynamics and follows the straight and unbending arrow of time.

If you crash your car into a lamppost, it definitely did ‘happen for a reason’ - in fact, it happened for a myriad of reasons converging in rapid succession. Your manipulation of the steering wheel, the amount of friction between the wheels and the road and the installation - decades before - of a lamppost (to name but a few).

The notion that your car crash was part of some grand cosmic plan, however, has always seemed a little self-aggrandising to me.

Not to get too dark too quickly here, but what about children who die from brain tumours? What about the victims of earthquakes, or terrorism, or genocide? What is the ‘reason’ for all that?

Or is there a special ‘reason’ why the same universe seems to care little about what happens to them, but a great deal about what happens to you? And, if so, what is it?

The feeling that we are the protagonist in the movie of our lives, however, isn’t unique to any of us. We all walk around with it all the time - and I’m certainly no different

And it’s entirely understandable; in several important ways it’s built into the very mechanics of our brain.

The evolution of sensory experience, for example, has forced us all to continually be positioned at the centre of an unfolding panoply of sensations and events that look and feel, by definition, like they’re revolving around us.

If we were all sentient clouds of amorphous gas, for example, that could disassemble and reassemble over vast areas at once, we’d probably have a bit more perspective (though playing golf would be a challenge).

Our brains have also evolved to be exceptionally good at rationalisation - providing post-hoc explanations for behaviours that, in reality, tend to emerge from the subconscious parts of the mind we don’t understand and aren’t aware of.

As a species, we humans are built to tell stories about ourselves to ourselves - and these stories have the power to inspire us, comfort us, or, in some cases, torture us.

This week I was on my way to a gig when I stepped into a moment of pure serendipity that truly put my skepticism to the test.

Bare with me - things are about to get a little convoluted.

I’d been booked to play at a 40th Birthday Party for a couple at Dunscar Golf Club in Bolton (Mick Jagger, eat your heart out…).

However, being generally distracted by life, I’d set off under the illusion that the 40th Birthday Party was taking place at Dunscar Conservative Club (another of the elite, fabled musical establishments I occasionally get booked to turn up and play at).

I arrived at the Conservative Club and began unloading my gear to much confusion - especially from a man named Ian who was having his own birthday party there and definitely hadn’t booked me to play at it - before I realised my mistake and beat a hasty retreat.

And this is where the weirdness began.

As I eventually pulled up at Dunscar Golf Club - the correct venue - and began to unload, I was met by a strangely familiar face.

It was my primary school Headmaster - a man I’d absolutely adored growing up and hadn’t seen for about 13 years.

As the recognition began to dawn on us both we shook hands and briefly chatted about life before he asked me if I was here for Ian’s birthday.

Ian, for the ill-attentive amongst you, being the man I’d just been apologising to at the Conservative Club.

My old headmaster had made the same error as me but in reverse. And this simultaneous, symmetrical pair of mistakes had led us both to the same golf-club car-park at precisely the same time on the same evening having not seen one another for 13 years.


This is me giving the intelligent super-power at the heart of the cosmos one final chance.

If ‘everything happens for a reason’, then that brief reunion, engineered by so many unlikely decisions, dates, invitations and misdirections, surely has to mean something.

If I am really an actor in some grand cosmic drama, then I eagerly await the revelations of the next scene.

Perhaps my old Headmaster will be drinking at a bar in Wigan, whistling the melody to Castles, having streamed it after our random encounter.

Maybe, next to him, the President of EMI might have stopped off on his way from Edinburgh to London for a swift pint.

Maybe he’ll be so struck by the tune emanating from the old man’s lips that he’ll be unable to resist pulling up a bar stool and finding out precisely which dormant genius wrote it in the first place.

Maybe. Maybe not.

At least I’ll finally know one way or the other whether everything really does ‘happen for a reason’.

Or whether, as I suspect, we are all just wending our way into the darkness of a cold, uncaring future where, for better or for worse, what will happen will happen and we’ll all have to deal with it as best we can.

Keep dreaming,


Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

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