The walnut table in my Mom’s kitchen sits quietly in the sunlight. It used to be bigger, expanded with leaves to handle the meals and conversations of nine family members. But now it sits smaller, crowded with books and mail, with just enough space for one place setting.
This kitchen table was the center of my universe during my school years, the site of many “kitchen table talks” with Mom. It was from this table that I would look ahead. Never too far into the future, usually a semester or two, testing the water with my big toe to feel what it would be like on my own. What road should I take and where will I end up?
Looking back, I don’t see a straight line. I see a complex road map filled with a thousand streets intersecting at many points. My path, highlighted in yellow, is filled with many twists and turns.
At each of the turns I could have gone in the opposite direction, altering the yellow line and changing my future. Was I destined to take this path? Did I decide each turn by myself? What role did God play in this journey?
When Forrest asks his mother about his destiny, he has already led an eventful life. He was an All-American football player, a decorated Vietnam War hero and a gazillionaire as a shrimpin’ boat captain. He even taught Elvis to dance.
Unlike Chance, the gardener in Being There, Forrest does not wander aimlessly through life. He follows his good instincts and the advice of people he respects. But when Jenny talks about jumping off a bridge or Lieutenant Dan wants to die like his ancestors, Forrest steps up and challenges them, acting on his own good sense of what is right. Through it all, Forrest still asks for guidance about his destiny. His wise mother, however, resists the urge to give him a map. “I happen to believe that you make your own destiny. You have to do the best with what God gave you.”
As a Catholic in middle Tennessee, we are often faced with different Christian views. A traditional Protestant belief, known as predestination, states that we can do nothing about our salvation. God has already determined our destiny and by his grace some of us (but not all) are saved to manifest divine grace here on earth.
Mrs. Gump’s advice leans the other way, acknowledging God’s gift of our talents and grace, but she puts the responsibility of Forrest’s destiny squarely on his own shoulders.
Somewhere in the middle is the traditional Catholic belief that our gracious God desires the salvation of all and wills us to cooperate freely with His grace in the working out of our salvation. Thus we have the choice to follow Him, live in a more Christ-like manner, and do our part to spread God’s love to others around us.
Perhaps we are each riding a feather, sometimes floating on a breeze created by God to move us in a particular direction, other times steering that feather ourselves along the path we choose.
The best flights are when we are always checking the wind, spending prayerful time to understand God’s will in our lives, and steering our feather to keep the wind at our back, helping us along our journey.
Forrest comes close to this same understanding near the end of the film. When talking to Jenny at her gravesite, trying to understand the past so he can raise little Forrest without her, he says, “I don’t know if we each have a destiny or if we’re all floatin’ around accidental-like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both are happening at the same time.”
Sometimes I wonder about the points on my road map where I turned one way instead of another. What would life be like if I had taken another path? Some of the changes might have been superficial, such as owning a different house if I had stayed with a particular job. Other paths would have drastically changed my life, such as returning to Illinois after college instead of meeting my wife in Nashville.
Looking back, I took this path because I listened to God’s will and made my own decisions on what is best for my life. Many times it seems like the wind is at my back and I am confidently facing the future with God’s grace in my sails.
Still, there are times when I have to dock my ship at my mother’s house, sit at the kitchen table and have another good talk with her to stay on the right path. The upcoming holidays will be a great time for this – I hope you will find time to do the same.
First published in the November 4, 2005 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2005 Christopher Fenoglio.