Luck or Fate?

Oedipus answers the Sphinx's riddle
Oedipus answers the Sphinx’s riddle

What is the difference between luck and fate? As every human being, I often find myself wondering which part of my life is already written somewhere and which part I am in full control over.

Some people think that your destiny is fixed from all eternity and there is little you can do to change it. I have always been fascinated by Oedipus myth, which narrates the unsuccessful attempts by Oedipus to escape the Oracle’s prediction about the crimes he would commit.

When Oedipus was born, an Oracle predicted to his parents, Laius and Jocasta, king and Queen of Thebes, that their child will kill his father and marry his own mother. In a bid to avoid such horrible acts to take place, the desperate parents pierced the child’s ankles and tied them together and then abandoned him on the top of a mountain, Mount Citherion, where he should meet his death. But Destiny would not have any of this. So, a shepherd who was passing by, rescued the poor baby, who found his way to the royal family of Corinth where King Polybus and Queen Merope, without a child, adopted him and named him Oedipus, which means, swollen foot.

You know how children are said to be cruel sometimes? Apparently, this was the case even in those legendary times. As he was growing up, other children calling him names constantly taunted Oedipus, who heard the term “bastard” more than once. When he became old enough, Oedipus run away from home in an attempt to discover the truth about himself. He asked the Oracle of Delphi who he was, but the Oracle did not tell him who his real parents were, he only revealed to him the terrible destiny that was awaiting him.

In a bid to avoid the parricide and the incest that was laid down for him, Oedipus run as far away as he could from King Polybus and Queen Merope who he believed to be his parents. Little did he know that in doing so, he was running straight into his real mother’s arms to become her new husband and father four children with her!

It seems that Destiny did not play a fair game with Oedipus who did the best he could to avoid the trap, but… did he? The story of his encounter with his real father who will end up being killed by his own son, Oedipus, is worth a further look.

On his way to Thebes, where he thinks he will be saved from his terrible fate, Oedipus, mounted on his own chariot comes across another chariot drawn by beautiful horses and conducted by a coachman accompanied by his old master. So, those two are face to face, in that narrow path and neither young Oedipus nor the old man is willing to yield.

I can perfectly re-enact this scene, and many Lagos drivers will have no trouble figuring it too. There are various scenarios here: You are driving a jeep and I am driving a smaller car, You are a man and I am a woman, You are a woman and I am also a woman, but the bottom line still is: “Who do you think you are?” My own tactic is, I just switch off the engine, pick my phone up and start browsing the internet, until you get fed up and gear back, and this is not because I think so much of myself, but because I am always careful not to engage in a way where I can clearly see that two cars can’t go through. I will patiently wait until the way is clear and I will expect you to do the same and not rush in that narrow corridor with no regard whatsoever for your fellow drivers.

Though, I can empathize with Oedipus, confronted with this situation. The coachman rudely pushes him. Angered, Oedipus strikes him on the head. The old man in the chariot injures Oedipus on the head too. And then, Oedipus looses it and he strikes back with a club and when the old man rolls on the floor, Oedipus kills him not knowing that it is in fact his father!

It could be said then, that if Oedipus had exercised a little more patience and not let his hubris or anger get the best of him, perhaps he could have averted his fate. And it also means that perhaps I should be more lenient when confronted with those road bullies, but why should bullies always get their ways?

Can Destiny be changed? According to the laws of Karma, you can certainly alleviate your sufferings and shape a better future for yourself as what comes around is supposed to be the result of your past actions.

Although, you do not choose your circumstances, the way you choose to see things and act, I am sure, is left to you.

I don’t believe in spotless icons, but Nelson Mandela has surely earned his role model title. A man who managed to keep his faith in himself and in humanity alive in a prison cell for over twenty-six years before becoming the first black president of his country, South Africa, can without a doubt teach us a lot, about luck or about fate?

I would say about being in charge of his destiny!

As a free-spirited woman, I would always think that, ultimately, I am in charge.

Culled from Nelson Mandela on the roof of Kholvad House in 1953. Image courtesy of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation
Culled from Nelson Mandela on the roof of Kholvad House in 1953. Image courtesy of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation

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