Self portrait of Frederick O'Brien

Frederick O'Brien

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The gods will offer you chances

There is a Charles Bukowski poem I like called “The Laughing Heart”. All the lines in it are pretty good but the four below have stuck with me in the years since reading them for the first time:

be on the watch.

the gods will offer you chances.

know them.

take them.

There are a handful of moments in my life that those words ring true for - moments when an opportunity presented itself and I was seized, albeit briefly, by an unerring clarity of mind and purpose. Sometimes a thing is perfect, and you want it.

I’m not religious. I don’t believe in god, destiny, fate, any of that. I think people generally get what they get rather than what they deserve, and when I’m on the recieving end of something good I’d sooner chalk it up to circumstance or privilege than to any worthiness on my part.

I do, however, think there are things that are worth caring about and things that are not, and that there is value in knowing the difference. For starters it frees up mental energy for being on the watch.

An illustration of the ratio of things that matter to things that don't

It feels right to say that to know chances from the gods we must know ourselves, but then I don’t credit myself with either. Maybe that’s why those chances have a touch of the divine about them, because caught in their light we see ourselves clearly and recognise what we want, what would make us more whole.

For a time it can drive you mad to care quite so much, but at least it occasionally drives you mad enough to take the chance. That’s when the heart laughs.