Sunday, December 02, 2007

Bad Faith, or Bad Luck?

My latest adventure: driving back from a performance on a snowy night (Friday night), my car hit a patch of ice and went spinning off the road, and into a ditch. I live where it snows a lot, and so I am used to driving in these conditions. I was going slowly and carefully. It is probably because I was going slowly and carefully that things were not worse. As it was, I was not injured, and the car was just dented and scratched up a bit.

It could have been much worse. If there had been other traffic, cars most likely would have hit each other. If other traffic had been going too fast, there surely would have been injuries. If I had been going faster, my car would have rolled instead of just slid into the rather steep and deep ditch I slid into. In retrospect, I realize that I am very lucky.

But at the time, during that split second when I was watching disaster coming straight at me, and I didn't know how exactly this all was going to end, and there was absolutely nothing more I could do but wait for the rest of the story to play out, my life didn't flash before my eyes. Instead, I found myself (a quiet, gentle soul, usually) yelling "No!" in fierce protestation, with an emotion more like anger than anything else.

Here was what I was feeling: I try so hard to do the right thing. I try to live with awareness, compassion, respect, and care. So why does my life feel like it is spinning out of control? It was an existential moment.

Referring back to a comment on one of my recent posts, am I living in Sartre's "bad faith"?

Or was this just a moment of bad luck? (It does bring new problems that I do not feel I have chosen.)

Or was this a moment of good luck? (It could have been so much worse! As it is now, the problems this creates for me are all solvable and finite in duration. I was not injured, and some day my car will be all fixed up again -- this was not an event that would leave lasting bad effects. In fact, having this story in my history will help me respond with more effective compassion and reassurance to others who experience similar situations.)

Most haunting to me is this: sometimes I have powerful dreams, and those dreams reflect, in highly symbolic form, aspects of my normal waking life. Reflecting on those dreams gives me insight into my life.

This is the reason this was such an existential experience for me. It is soul-shaking to find a kind of metaphor my dreams often employ suddenly erupting into real life. So I want to read the symbolism of this event like I read dreams. But its happening in real life makes it seem more urgent than ever.

What message am I to take from this?


  1. CS,

    First let me say I'm really glad you are alright. I remember skidding out of control on an icy road many years ago. It's really spooky feeling.

    Now that you've explained a bit more (in your answer to my previous comment) about how the new situation seems to demand that you act consistently with previous commitments I understand a little more. Sartre didn't seem to appreciate the extent to which our freedom is rightly constrained by our previous choices--a bit of moral blindness on his part I'd say.

    Still the issue you face is this: is the dream-like spinning out of control some sort of message to you. As you probably know if you read my blog regularly I believe that God communicates with us not merely in the silence but also through synchronicities or "Way opening" in Quaker jargon. My own inclination is to suspect that you may very well be getting a message to move more slowly and judiciously. Maybe you are trying to do too much.

  2. Thank you, Richard, for your sympathy and your further reflections!

    I'm still meditating on all of this.