Chapter 5. The Many Voices of Destiny
Science has steadily pulled back from the fullness of our experience, contracting into a subtle and pinched search for reliable mechanisms, abstract and remote. In the face of this science, it is difficult to hold onto any conviction that we bring a resolve or task or destiny with us to earth and that we converse with this destiny through all the circumstances of our lives. Such intimations of destiny as we may encounter almost inevitably fade toward the indistinct margins of our existence. Or else they erupt into flaky theories all the more understandable given that the prevailing science, with its necessary discipline, has abandoned the field.
It's not much use arguing for or against any notion of destiny in general terms. All we can do is to look at our lives as fully and dispassionately as possible, ignoring nothing because of our presuppositions. Then we can try to hear what, if anything, speaks through the whole.
Or else look at someone else's life. We are offered such a life or, rather, a group of lives in a startling and best-selling book that came out several years ago, entitled Expecting Adam and written by Martha Beck, a bright young woman on the fast track to worldly success. What speaks through the characters in her real-life tale of unexpected destiny is powerful beyond words.
Beck had always felt revulsion in the presence of retarded people. This was still true when, in the aftermath of a nearly disastrous automobile accident, an obviously retarded passer-by looked her straight in the eye and said, "He's a good baby, ma'am. You take care of that baby."
It was only then that Beck who a moment before had found herself unreasonably peaceful beside her shell-shocked husband as their car spun wildly out of control through onrushing traffic realized she was experiencing the first, faint symptoms of another "accident." She was pregnant. A few months later she would discover that the developing child had Down syndrome.
Beck and her husband, John, already parents of an eighteen-month-old daughter, Katie, were hard-driven, rational, stiff-upper-lip Ph.D. candidates at Harvard. Earlier, John had been roundly castigated as "a disgrace to this institution" in front of eighty-nine other students by a world-famous economics professor when he missed two days of class while Lamaze-coaching Martha through their daughter's birth a tongue-lashing "that made him wake up in a cold sweat for months afterward." They knew another couple who aborted a planned pregnancy after a professor scheduled a crucial, three-day test near the expected delivery date. Martha herself was studying the sociology of gender in company with many fellow staunch feminists: "I could hear them in my mind, comparing me to a rabbit, a brood sow, a member of some primitive tribe that hadn't figured out the connection between sex and reproduction."