When you play games with fate…fate plays back.
Last week I had to perform a poem about fate at a public library. It was going to be an elaborate performance involving a preamble, a toy bow and arrow, and 17 secretly placed envelopes under the seats of unsuspecting audience members.
Unfortunately, the subway service in the area was halted and so I had to walk all the way to the library. When I finally showed up, no one was there.
I tip my hat to fate.
The jokes on me.
Try again next week.
Next week comes and I show up early.
Good, I got the right date!
Now I have to inform the organizer about the envelopes to avoid a misunderstanding with security.
He is not there.
Hmm…What to do?
He finally shows up after 20 minutes but some of the audience members are already starting to arrive.
He gives me the green light I have to be stealthy and avoid detection from arriving audience members.
I start taping the envelopes but I have eyes on me. Someone is going to see something.
I’m struggling with the scotch tape that I bought from the dollar store. Even with the tiny arrows telling me where the end of the roll begins I just can’t get a grip. Story of my life.
After several tries, I finally got it.
Damn, this thing is loud.
I start taping envelopes beneath seats in as many different areas as possible. After a while I notice some of the envelopes are already falling off or visibly hanging.
Never use dollar store products for important tasks!
I go back to re-tape the falling/hanging envelopes.
The envelopes I just taped also begin to hang or fall.
It’s a game of Whac-A-Mole at this point!
God help me!
Some audience members start to eye me with suspicion.
Why is this guy moving around from seat to seat?
One lady catches me red handed so I just hand her the envelope and spill the beans on the operation. She is half convinced but doesn’t appear intent on calling security so I continue with my business.
More hanging/falling envelopes.
This is harder than I thought.
Too many people are now here and I still have 6 envelopes left. I resign myself to fate and take a seat.
I glance at my watch and note that the program will begin in 15 minutes.
An older man greets me and begins a conversation that leads to, of all things, the reason behind the civilizational crisis of Muslims. I know where this conversation is heading. Why is this happening to me?!
I really don’t want to talk to anybody right now about anything. This is my 12th hour into a day’s long fast, so my patience is hanging just like that envelope I’m eyeing in row 4.
After spending 16 years in prison due to my extremist beliefs, I just can’t stand discussions related to power or politics.
The man is talking, but I don’t want to listen.
“Listen brother,” I interrupt him, “Your interpretation of Islam seems to be obsessed with power. Some Muslim thinkers in the post colonial era have tried to make power and politics the defining theme of Islam. The core of our religion, however, is neither about power nor politics, it’s about piety. Look at the last 22 years since 9/11. How has the militants’ obsession with gaining power through violence benefited Islam and Muslims? Indeed, power and politics are part of Islam, but they are not part of its defining core. If we spend more time being pious and decent human beings, as many Muslims are, then our situation will eventually change. It has to. Now please excuse me because I am presenting first and I have to prepare”
A part of me felt bad because this man was no foaming-at-the-mouth- radical. He was a kind man who was simply regurgitating the ideas of post colonial Muslim thinkers who were influenced by Marxist ideas and extremely oppressive environments.
5 minutes left.
I have no clue how to distribute the remaining envelopes.
So again, I just resign myself to fate and sit at the front row with two tote bags, one of which contains a concealed bow and arrow.
“What kind of instrument is that?” the man next to me asks, pointing to the bag.
“Hmm, it’s an instrument alright, but it’s not musical. I use props in my performances.”
Thankfully, the man just laughs and doesn’t ask anymore questions.
It’s go time!
The organizer lays out the rules: No hate, violent, or abusive speech. And no more than 5 minutes per performance. He then calls out my name.
Holding the bow and arrow in one hand, I go up to the mic wearing a white T-shirt with “Hey Humans” written across.
“Nothing is going as planned today! Maybe it’s due to the topic at hand. Oh! And if you are wondering what this is for,” I say holding up the bow and arrow, “it’s for you, Will,”
I walk over to the organizer and place the weapon in his hand.
“If I go over 5 minutes, just shoot me”
The audience erupts with laughter.
“Ok, secondly, please forgive me, but I have to leave at 7 o’clock because I am fasting. So please don’t interpret my leaving as a snub to the rest of the performers.”
I can feel the audience’s sympathy.
“Oh, and by the way, this is my fasting face. I am usually way more handsome than this!”
“Okay, so what was I here for?” I ask, genuinely forgetting the actual topic.
“Oh! Yes! I am here to present a poem about an idea that most of you probably don’t believe in. I am here to talk about the idea of fate; as in F.A.T.E, as in predestination; as in everything happens for a reason; as in we are all Kings, Queens, Bishops, Rooks, and Ponds on the Chess Board of Destiny, and that while we may all have the freedom to make a variety of moves, we are ultimately limited by the parameters of the Chess board. Having said that, I have placed a number of envelopes under some of your seats so please check to see if you have been chosen by fate.”
Excitement is buzzing through the audience.
“And don’t worry, for those of you who didn’t find anything, I got 6 more envelopes in my bag,”
I am improvising at this point.
“Who here has the letter Z in their first or last name?”
Only one person raises their hand.
“Alright, let’s make this easier. How about a B in your first or last name,”
“Did you say V or B,” someone in the audience asks.
“B! We gotta do this quickly or I’ll get shot!”
They laugh again.
I finally deliver the mail and return to the mic.
“Okay, don’t open the envelopes yet. For those in the audience who didn’t get anything, please let me explain. So the envelopes contain a symbolic ring that participants are supposed to wear or simply hold on to as a reminder to take on a goal or an obstacle that has been dogging them for a long time. For the next month, I want you to obsessively focus on this task emotionally, mentally, and physically. Then, once the month is over, I want you to look back and assess what role fate may have played in your pursuit. Steve Jobs once famously said that in life, “you can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.”
“And now, without further ado, here is my poem…”
hangs around my neck,
like a necklace.
My life is an outline of a portrait,
drawn by God,
that I must pain with my deeds.
Freewill and Fate,
are like twin horses,
that we ride standing,
not knowing which is which,
until the race is over.
There can be no peace,
and no stillness of the mind
without embracing destiny.
Glimpsing into the secrets of the universe,
“Maktoob,” the Arabs said,
“It is written.“
and your death;
and your joys;
every grain of rice,
and every golden coin,
on its way to you,
was marked with your name,
50,000 years before existence.
What hit you was never meant to miss you,
and what missed you was never meant to hit you.
The pens of destiny have been lifted,
and their ink has long dried.