Friday, April 22, 2011

Living Life by Accident

It was "Good" Friday 13 years ago. I had been awake since long before dawn. There was a sense of foreboding about the day, but nothing prepared me for the "perfect storm" that was to be unleashed. The events that followed (I will spare you the details) left me scarred, disoriented, my confidence shattered. It took days before I regained partial consciousness, only to find myself clinging to the charred remains of what had been a well-ordered life, my lungs screaming for breath as each wave sought to drown me. My life became a bewildering sea of confusion. With no idea of which direction to swim, I felt like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, “Alone, alone, all all alone, alone on a wide wide sea! And never a saint took pity on my soul in agony”.

Life can be a scary prospect. Accidents happen every day. Some of them are good, and some of them are disastrous. Bumping into an old friend on the street. Good. Backing into a post in the supermarket parking lot. Bad. Marrying someone who actually sticks around "for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health". Extraordinary. Being estranged from someone you love. Heartrending. Being born into a family in a country that can meet your every need and provide opportunities that seem endless. Fantastic. Living life in a poverty-stricken Third World country, facing the crossfire between religious fanatics while at the same time losing family members to AIDS. Crushing.

For some, life is what happens to you. It is comprised of reactions, attempts to escape the negative and enjoy the positive events encountered as we wander aimlessly. Life is lived by accident. There is no overarching purpose, no North Star. It is a jigsaw puzzle in which few of the pieces fit together at all.

For me, I choose to trust that the puzzle pieces do fit together, even if I cannot see the full picture at present. Despite the consequences that followed, neither the events of Good Friday many years ago, nor the diagnosis of my Parkinson’s disease, were accidents. Difficult though it has been sometimes, both "tragedies" focused my heart and mind. They caused me to ask the defining question, "What is my purpose?".

Statisticians say that 85% of us live life by accident. That is, only 15% of us have a definable, overriding purpose or plan, a set of lifelong goals or aspirations. 85% of us spend our lives avoiding or reacting to the events that invade our every day existence. Perhaps surprisingly, only 2% of us write down our purpose, plans, goals and aspirations. But it is that 2% who are 10 times more likely to achieve them. That is purposeful living.

It seems only fitting that, on a day that commemorates an apparently purposeless death by the cruelest means, we should consider how we might live life with a sense of purpose. Whether you are religious or not, the story of Good Friday, followed by Easter Sunday, became a defining example of a "purpose driven life".

I can now look back on those days, 13 years ago, and refer to them as some of the best things that have ever happened to me. The tumultuous events led to extraordinarily positive consequences, undreamed of opportunity and blessing. Now that more than 5 years have passed since the diagnosis of Parkinson's disease, I am beginning to see a similar pattern. A sense of purpose has arisen.

I am faced every day with at least two tough questions: Will I believe that life is a series of accidents, or is there purpose behind each event? Will I live life by accident or with purpose?


  1. Thanks for the reminder Bob.

    I know that your difficult event turned out to be a very good thing for many of us team members : )

  2. What wisdom for me today.

  3. Bob,
    Your blog today amazed me.
    I don't know what happened 13 years ago but from all of the descriptions of those who are close to you and events that have happened to you, you are truly blessed.
    Shirley B

  4. Bob,

    Uplifting. As a friend of several PWPs, I'm grateful for the positive message.

    Here's another blog I've just found that uplifts me. Take a peek when you can.

    All the best,