Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos by
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What amazes and terrifies me about the role that timing (or is it luck?) has played in my life is how dismayingly often my future has been determined by chance events. So many times, the course of my life has been diverted by what happened – or didn’t – at some random moment.  Planning and effort often seem to take second place to fickle Fortune. Scientist and writer Stephen Jay Gould wrote an entire book on what he called “contingency,” meaning that the flow of events is so often and profoundly altered by seemingly small changes in direction or result, that if went back and did it all over an infinite number of times, you’d never get the same result twice.

One major example in my life was shared in Bookends. On that day, an epic lifelong friendship began that, had either of us been, literally, a minute earlier or later on our errands, would not have happened. But it didn’t stop at who I would share a dorm room with for a few years. That meeting has reverberated through our shared lives ever since, like ripples from a stone landing in a pond, spreading out, affecting things farther and farther away from the initial impact. Its influence has grown and spread and maybe become more subtle with time, but like energy, it has persisted.

Had I not encountered Alan that day, the events that lead up to my renewing my relationship with Maria, and all the damage that she wrought upon me, would not have occurred. Which means, quite possibly, that I’d have had the will and hope and energy to make my academic career a reality. Also, absent the dark years of serial bad relationships that were a direct result of my chaotic and wounded post-Maria emotional state, my first marriage would certainly never have happened, even if Wife-1 and I had happened to meet, which is also  highly unlikely. Which means I’d never have met Gina. I wouldn’t have moved to Chicago. I’d never have met Alan’s lovely wife, and made new friends both here and abroad. I wouldn’t be writing this story. Meeting Alan that day at the FDU Housing Office in late summer of 1975 has turned out to be maybe the single most consequential thing that ever happened to me, from which so many other events have derived.

Contingency. That meeting happened at a nexus in my life, a choke point, a crossroads that I didn’t know I had reached, a moment in time where, all unseen, various threads leading to my futures were crossing, interweaving, to be lengthened, spliced…or cut.

Of course, there was also the time the plane I was on avoided a mid-air collision by a few seconds. Or the unusual October thunderstorm that led Gina and I, who then barely knew each other, to quit lab work for the night and go see a dumb movie. Or the lab explosion that missed removing my right hand by about five seconds.

Life is basically a casino, and although the House always wins in the end, sometimes the players catch a lucky streak.




Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. pattyv says:

    Destiny! Randomness? I seriously question that. I think Alan was someone you were supposed to meet in this lifetime. Circumstances, situations, the particulars may change but the outcome was always agreed upon. He was too important to you. You said it beautifully: “Contingency. That meeting happened at a nexus in my life, a choke point, a crossroads that I didn’t know I had reached, a moment in time where, all unseen, various threads leading to my futures were crossing, interweaving, to be lengthened, spliced…or cut.” (Love this Dave)

  2. Thanx for your story Dave, and for reminding me of those classical sisters, altho the Greeks may have gotten it wrong.

    Fortuitous timing certainly played a part in your friendship with Alan and your marriage to Gina.
    And I love your image – indeed life is a crapshoot!

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Agree that I like your description of contingency, and how it is only in retrospect (small “r”) that you can appreciate it. Although of course the consequences of missing the lab explosion mayhem was pretty immediate. Life is peculiar.

    • Dave Ventre says:

      After the kaboom, I and the other guy who was also very near (in fact, it was his setup that exploded) left the building, went to the Dunkin’ Donuts next door and just sat there, sipping iced coffees and staring into space.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    You’ve had a lot of those “near misses” or random occurrences, Dave – both little and BIG! Of course some led you on the path to Gina, which was huge. Some saved you from serious harm in a lab explosion – also huge! Shall we call it serendipity? Or luck or chance or fate that brought you to where you are today? At least you got to this place and here you are, with the love of your life, and your hands intact, and that’s what’s important.

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your analogy to life as a casino, Dave. Hopefully, you win some important hands, like Gina, and avoid some total catastrophes, but in the end, the House always wins. We just have to hope that overall, we had a good ride.

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