Mum thanks God for my achievements as if they’re living proof of divine intervention. Her well-meaning praise appears superstitious to someone who attributes success to their own volition and not the caprice of The Man Upstairs. However, the sentiment resonated someplace else. A good grade; a mouth fed; a way out — answered prayers disguised as small fortunes numbed her family’s existential uncertainty, living off a small convenience store in the Philippines. Little blessings, no matter how small, portended heavenly care and protection. This divine mythos became the bedrock of community, of individual purpose and self-love. And whoever The Man Upstairs was, He made them feel loved.
Destiny went way off course when mum had two miscarriages before my older brother and I were born. When we were each finally conceived, she hypothesised that God plucked two souls one by one from the ocean of an incorporeal world. Then, in a Royal Prince Alfred hospital bed, we were coagulated gifts from above: small fortunes to light the path out of her misery, in accordance with His grand plan for her. She transformed death and birth into metaphors of suffering and subsequent hope.
Conceiving my little brother at the precarious age of 47 was by far the omen to top all others. The three of us presaged a new life, emblems of the pain she has conquered since. Birth now holds a sacrosanct seat in her history. Despite our worldviews never aligning perfectly, I could never claim mum was wrong for believing in what she did. If she didn’t, I wouldn’t be here.
But fate is a tough pill to swallow. When I entered into a romantic relationship with a man who could only acknowledge me in secrecy, fatalistic platitudes were temptingly convenient. All I had to do was throw my hands in the air and admit that it wasn’t meant to be. When he asked our Uber driver to stop a block ahead of his house so no one could see us; when he refused an outing with me because his family could be anywhere in the city; when he subsequently buried his hand in my jacket pocket and caressed my clenched fist like a silent apology — all seemingly innocuous gestures augured the futility of our midnight forays.
The cosmic message was simple: the stars hadn’t aligned; it was neither the right time nor the right place; or maybe it didn’t work because our capricious God had it out for same-sex couples.
But subscribing to fate requires blithely accepting my own powerlessness. It means denying my part in a generation on the cusp of writing new possibilities of queerness. It means internalising a narrative where otherness is my immutable destiny.
Where fate alleviates mum’s ontological insecurities, it only amplifies mine.
That said, neither of our divergent understandings of providence are invalid. My inability to accept fate doesn’t preclude me from recognising that ascribing providential meaning to certain moments is a way of comprehending your pain and promising yourself happiness. Mum’s spiritual aphorisms transport me to a world where her central concerns differ from mine, but I can acknowledge how human emotions like agony and hope compel confidence in fate.
Because with faith comes the comforting acceptance that some things can’t be explained and don’t have to be. In fact, we use metaphors in much the same way we use trolleys.
We use them as vehicles for what is too heavy for us to carry in other ways.