Beyond control

In a chain reaction, the initial event may bear no relation to the final outcome, but that makes it no less significant.

I don’t know what the initial catalyst was in my case. It may have been the event on a geography field trip at secondary school that seemed to change everything. It may have been even earlier — my over-sensitive nature, perhaps, or my perennial shyness. It could have been events on the Isle of Iona; it could equally just have been my undiagnosed state of being.

Though I have often imagined it this way, I don’t know that what happened at college was the start of everything. For sure, my being there was already the end product of a whole set of other events. I can’t really identify any one event — life is infinitely more complex than that.

I could say that had I not encountered a South African youth worker on an island in the Inner Hebrides, I would never have reacted as I did to his opinions on racism. Perhaps I would never then have become friends with a Bengali lad I had nothing in common with, and with his friends by extension. And then perhaps everything would have been different.

Or perhaps all of that was immaterial. For all I know, one of those who took such exception to me may even have known my older brother. They were the same age and may easily have started college at the same time a couple of years earlier.

Who knows what adventures he got up to before me, and how his interactions shaped all that followed? Certainly, it wouldn’t be the first time his actions had affected my relationship with others.

But still, events in my time had a profound impact on me. So much so that I felt I had no way of dealing with it but to write about it. And that act of writing carried me in new directions, as I took to rewriting and exploring the actions and choices of characters in more detail.

Where once I had only been able to see events as a binary black and white, of good and bad, I came to understand why people may have behaved a certain way. In turn, I would find myself with growing sympathies for those I had once thought foes, and would discover an affinity with faith traditions other than my own.

But of course nothing occurs in isolation. I was buffeted at length for years. I hit my lowest in 1997, midway through my first year at university. Perhaps that was because events at college seemed to be repeating all over again; perhaps because I just seemed incapable of building normal relationships. Either way, I hit rock bottom, smashed my own face to pieces and then concluded: “I need to reform my soul.”

I needed to be brought to that low ebb to turn my life around. Events over the preceding five years or more carried me there. That chain reaction. There was no one, single action that triggered that reaction. It was an accumulation of factors. I can’t credit or blame any one person, only factors completely beyond my control.

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