Fishing for Meaning: Fate, Destiny, and Heimarmene

A New York Times columnist, Roger Cohen, wrote about getting lost while hiking in Spain’s Sierra de Guadarrama, his gripping story filled with an underlying and somewhat disturbing meaning.

On the surface, it seemed like a story about luck.

But I chose to see “Lost and Found in Hemingway’s Spain”  as a treatise on Fate.

His tale underscores some thoughts I’ve been playing with lately. Is Life just another example of we humans making plans while Fate laughs? Or does Life just happen? In Cohen’s story, I immediately sensed the presence of Heimarmene, a Greek goddess associated with fate and destiny, one of three members of the Moirai.

In Morocco, whenever we made plans to meet friends or do something as simple as planning a party, we – and they – would always end the conversation with “Inshallah”.

“God willing”. Or maybe the Universe. Who knows?

Perhaps finding meaning in life is a bit like fishing? We throw our line in, or sweep the seas or rivers or lakes with our nets, and hope to find something worthy of our time, our effort.

“Don’t tempt the Fates.” — Common saying

Cohen writes in his account of being lost and then found, “Don’t fall or twist an ankle. Don’t trust that rock with your weight, misjudge the depth of the juniper thicket, or turn in circles. How and at what point does extreme thirst affect the mind? Don’t panic. Think.”


Good advice, except that sometimes all the thinking we muster could be for naught. The path diverges and, like Cohen, we find ourselves going the wrong way. But for his cell phone’s single bar, he could have been wandering beyond the reach of rescue, his body eaten by the vultures he suddenly notices circling above him. They know. They know.

“Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”
― Dante Alighieri, Inferno

My mother always poo-pooed the idea of Fate, being of the “you make your-own-luck school,” likening a fatalistic attitude to superstition and backward thinking. Perhaps we do create our own fate, certainly by the choices we make. But on the other hand, who’s to say that the choices we make aren’t driven by some underlying and compelling force?

“Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Accepting what Fate brings us is not always easy. One book which I’ve always remembered is Victor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. These words of his words sum up everything: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’ “. In other words, find something meaningful over everything else. For each of us that something will be different, of course.

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
― Gautama Buddha, Sayings Of Buddha

Cohen ends his piece with some of Hemingway’s astute words: “Now he [Harry] would never write the things that he had saved to write until he knew enough to write them well.” Which means, to me anyway, that we must determine what’s important to us, given our finite time on this planet. We need to act now, in this moment, by not putting important things off for another day.

I think the Greeks were onto something with Heimarmene.

I really do.



So Many Choices – La Boqueria Market, Barcelona, Spain (Photo credit: C. Bertelsen)

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