by guest blogger Autumn Barlow
It’s a common, throw-away phrase that makes my gorge rise. As a child I didn’t understand it. I was raised by staunch atheists, so why did my mum say it? And as an adult it just makes me angry.
It’s always useful to analyse those things which cause visceral reactions. You’ll have some. We all do. Bursts of emotion at hearing certain phrases; reactions we’ve had so long we don’t really question them. “Ooo, I hate that,” you might say, and flit onto the next distraction.
I want to get to the bottom of my hatred of this phrase.
It was meant to be.
When is it said? Usually in response to some positive outcome. What could be seen as a happy co-incidence is given some significance. Otherwise unconnected events are linked by our urge to give meaningful narration to our chaotic lives. Perhaps it anchors us in infinite time.
We don’t usually say it about bad things – like miracles, as Pratchett points out, which are only attributed to pleasant events. But awe and wonder are neutral values. I am in awe of a mass murderer – dwarfed by their personality, small as I try to comprehend their actions. It doesn’t mean admiration, though we tend to allocate such a tinge to the word. Though sometimes it’s said about a tragic event that no-one can understand, to try and make it all right. But say “it must have be meant, there must be some reason” to a parent who’s lost a child, for example, and you had better be able to run very fast.
Look at the “meant” part of the sentence. “Meant” has to have an originator. Someone, or something, to have had intention. There’s one reason for my particular antipathy to this phrase: my mum, who denied all religion and all spirituality, would routinely trot these words out. As a rebellious teenager I worked my way through rejecting pretty much all I thought my parents stood for, and though I have since, as an adult, re-evaluated my blanket denials, some things lingered. I’ve carried on some rebellions without thinking them through, and hating the illogical phrase is one of them.
It carries echoes, then, of woolly thinking and throwaway remarks. And more: I’ve always disliked people who seem to simply accept what they’re told.
Underneath that dislike is the unpleasant truth about myself: I’m jealous.
Jealous of those who appear to have an unconditional acceptance of how the world is. The world is as they have been told it is. They don’t question – and they feel secure. I envy that. I question, always, and have found no solace.
It was meant to be. Even if the person saying it doesn’t really believe in a directing force, who caused things to happen for our benefit, they still imply a kind of ease and relaxation with the universe that I simply don’t have.
Perhaps it’s because I want things to have meaning. I want events to have been “meant” by some higher power, something wiser than us. Maybe that’s the root of my anger – I feel that nothing does have meaning. And it should.
But I know that letting a higher power take responsibility for directing events mean that all events, good or bad, are driven by that power. So then we get into the blind acceptance of terrible happenings because “we can’t see the whole picture” and “it was god’s will” and I just can’t help seeing this ending in awful, lethargic apathy because if everything was meant to happen then what use is our will and our drive, our striving to create a better world? It was meant to be. Shrug it off.
And there it is. The root of it, coming even as I write this; it comes down to individual responsibility for our own actions, and an acceptance that what we do matters. Everything we do must be considered – what impact on ourselves, our community, our world, our universe?
Nothing was meant to be in that one-step-removed, impersonal, nothing to do with me denial of cause and effect. It happened because of people’s choices.
And that’s what makes me so furious. The way we hide behind phrases like this to mask our responsibilities for what happens in the world, because we feel so small and the universe so large, we think we can’t possibly have any effect.
But we do, and we must. We must mean to be.