A lot of folks initially take for granted

‘the accidents of birth’, home environment in young years, and heredity. It’s only later, when consciousness and reflection emerge that one often thinks how one’s life might have been better or (much) worse.

By ‘accidents of birth’, I’m referring to when (year) and where (place) where one is born. Certain eras and areas are more or less favorable. For instance, if you were born in the Victorian era in smoggy, foggy London, your chances of a long, prosperous life were highly unlikely.

Environment is also very influential; If you were born to a poor working family in Africa, life would be tougher than say if you grew up in small town America.

So one starts to see how certain basic, ‘built-in from the get-go’  factors might limit opportunity, much as Thomas Gray pointed out in his homage to poor working class people in “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”. A peasant was much less likely to become a Milton or Cromwell, and so forth.

Virginia Woolf comments on the same thing when she points out in A Room of One’s Own that Shakespeare’s sister never got the same opportunities as her famous brother and that women writers always had a tougher time in becoming successful writers  until the twentieth century.

Heredity also marks individuals. The health and DNA predispositions of one’s parents and forebears, likewise, influence whether one will get certain health problems, cancer, or earlier death

And…there’s not one can do about this. Except to know and be aware of all these different factors in order to get to know oneself better and appreciate whatever breaks one has been dumb-lucky to have had.

Always and all ways, there are limits on each person from the time and place of birth onward. In some cases, Phil Ochs’ “There but for fortune, go you or I”. Not everyone has had the same blind luck; the relative fates of each person are ‘doled out’ unevenly and sometimes inequitably.

But, with awareness and personal choices, we can make changes and improve our lifestyles, attitudes, and actions over whatever time we are allotted in living. We can rise, ascend, and ameliorate. We do not have to merely accept our various limitations and imposed circumstances. We “can strive to seek, to find, and not to yield”, to quote Tennyson’s Ulysses.

Even in the Nazi death camps–as Bettelheim and Frankl suggested–people still have choices, though these may be few or likewise limited. One can often still choose the dignity, courage, and integrity of self in many cases. “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings” says Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

Existentially, then, we can still make and create ourselves under the most restrictive of circumstances and limits, transcending them, not just enduring, but “prevailing” (Faulkner’s distinction) over them. It is important, always,  to remember that there are many possibilities and that many life ‘rules’ can be challenged or broken to make positive changes and to grow on many levels.

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