Love Your Fate

Some true stories.

On a tennis training trip to Florida last March, two months before his high school graduation, my son Jack felt something snap and spasm in his back. He’d played tennis through chronic pain for over a year, but this was different; the sudden jolt stopped him cold. He didn’t know in that moment that he’d just suffered two stress fractures in his L5 vertebrae, but he was pretty certain his final high school tennis season had just ended — before it had even begun. He knew, too, that his dream of being named captain of his team senior year would not come to pass. Later that same night, in pain but not yet diagnosed, he sat in a hotel room with some of his teammates. Drinks were poured and consumed. Jack and a friend put the empty liquor bottles into a knapsack and set out to carry them to a dumpster at a gas station up the road. On the way, they were intercepted by their coaches. By seven the next morning, Jack was on a plane home. One minute he had been president of his senior class, a star athlete with an early decision acceptance to his first-choice college. A day later, he was expelled from school, at home, and in bed with a broken back. His college acceptance was rescinded a few weeks after that.

My neighbor Debbie has managed the challenges of living with an ostomy for over twelve years, despite nearly constant blood loss and pain. When the oozing gets to be too severe, she undergoes a bowel cauterization, an uncomfortable procedure that has always been worth the result – a few months with less blood leaving her body, which means more energy and strength for her. In May, however, the cauterizing procedure that had worked well in the past had the opposite effect. Home from the hospital, Debbie bled continuously into her pouch for nearly a day. A friend and I drove her to the emergency room; halfway there, we realized she was losing consciousness and called an ambulance to meet us on the road. Debbie spent a couple of days in the ICU, stunned to realize just how close she had come to death’s door, just how fragile her condition really was. Back at home, she was weak, thin, exhausted – and still bleeding, uncertain whether her ravaged bowels and were healing or finally giving way altogether.

Up the road, just two miles from where we live, a young couple took over the farm where we have been CSA members for the past few years. The plan was for the elderly owner and his wife to slowly hand the farm over to Frank and Stacey, who have been working tirelessly from dawn till dark since early last spring, reclaiming and planting fields, building greenhouses, raising goats and pigs and chickens. We spent a day earlier this summer with our new neighbors at the farm, admiring the fruits of their labors – abundant vegetable gardens, happy animals, a lovely farm store well stocked with fresh, organic produce. A few weeks ago, when I stopped to buy kale from Stacey at the farmer’s market, I could tell she was upset. “We have to get rid of all the animals,” she explained, fighting back tears, “and as soon as we do, we have to leave the farm.” It turned out that the owner’s wife had decided she didn’t want animals being raised for meat on the property, and that was that. The deal was off.

“We’ve done the numbers every which way,” Stacey said sadly. “And we just can’t make a go of that property without the income from the animals.” Yesterday was Frank and Stacey’s final day at our local farmer’s market. They have found homes for all their animals, except for a few rabbits, which they are keeping. On Saturday the remainder of the garden’s bounty will go to the handful of CSA members and be offered for free at their roadside stand. Just as all the hard work of these last months is resulting in an abundant harvest at this beautiful old farm, the owner is meeting with real estate agents and developers, and Frank and Stacey are packing up to leave the place where they had hoped to sink their roots and stay forever.

On the early July day that Steve and I spent touring the fields and barns with Frank, he explained the origins of the new name he and Stacey had bestowed on the farm: “Amor Fati.” “It means ‘love your fate’ in Latin,” Frank said.

“We named the farm in memory of our best friend,” he continued, “who was planning to move here with us to farm this land. His motto was ‘amor fati.’ And that’s the way he lived his life, open to the world and loving his fate. He was killed in a car crash just before we moved to New Hampshire. But he would be here, farming right alongside us if he could. And so it seemed right that our farm, and our work here, should honor his memory and his great love of life.”

Amor fati. I have carried this resonant Latin phrase in my heart all summer. Love your fate. What a challenge that is, when what fate has to offer is not your dream come true but rather broken bones, stupid mistakes, dashed hopes, eviction notices, loss and pain and heartache. And yet, surely we are shaped as much by dashed hopes as by those that come to pass. We are strengthened not by the easy stuff, but by what brings us to our knees. And we realize our full potential as human beings as much by losing at the game of life as by winning.

To love your fate is to believe that the way things are right now is the way they are supposed to be – even if nothing is quite the way we wanted or expected. We can either go down swinging, or we can die to the way things were and begin instead to live into them as they are.

Jack has spent the summer in Boston, packing cards and rolling posters to earn money, and doing intensive stretching and physical therapy to heal his back. He has had to give up all the activities he loves and remain pretty much immobile, in the hope that given absolute rest, his bones will begin to knit back together. The most recent scan, a few weeks ago, showed just the slightest bit of new growth, a dim shadow of healing. Enough progress for his doctor to say, “Just keep doing what you’re doing, and stay quiet for another six months, and then we’ll see.”

Last night, just as I was falling asleep, Jack called, wanting to talk about re-applying to college for next year. “I think getting thrown out of school and then having college taken away was probably for the best,” he said. “And having this broken back, the most horrible thing that’s ever happened in my whole life, has also made me a stronger, better person.”

I listened, phone to my ear in the dark bedroom, as my son acknowledged that the worst thing that had ever happened to him – a severe, possibly incurable back injury – had led him to the best thing that’s ever happened to him: intense daily stretching sessions with an extraordinary healer and mentor; work that is changing the way he feels in his body and the way he confronts the rest of his life. “I’ve had to change everything about the way I live,” Jack went on. “I’ve gone from being someone who lived totally for sports and for pleasure, to someone who realizes that there are other ways to live and be happy and healthy, and that’s huge.”

I agreed that it is, indeed, huge. “And so I think the fall is going to be mostly about applying to college again,” Jack said. “But I think I’m a better candidate now than I was a year ago. I’ve learned a lot. I feel as if I actually have something to offer.” Amor fati.

As I write these words, Debbie is outside, clipping faded stalks of coneflower and rudbeckia from my tangled August garden. “I worked hard for this little life of mine,” she said the other day, as she sipped the high-protein breakfast smoothie I make her each morning. “To be able to spend time in your garden, go to the pond with the dogs, and take a swim. It’s all I want. And every single day that I’m here, able to do what I love, I just look up and say ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’.” Amor fati.

Stacey smiled yesterday when I told her how grateful we’ve been for their beautiful food all summer. “We want to come back in the spring,” she said, as she weighed my potatoes and filled a bag with arugula. “Everyone has been so kind and supportive to us. All the other farmers have been great. And this place has come to feel like home, where we belong.” For now, Frank and Stacey will move in with her aunt in Massachusetts; she will return to her old job, working with autistic children, while Frank begins to search for another farm, a small piece of land they can buy outright, where they can start all over again from scratch, dreaming and planting and living close to the earth. Amor fati.

The pain of life isn’t ever going to disappear. But perhaps it is in our efforts to open our hearts, to accept and work with what life hands us, that we grow our souls. Day by day, as we struggle to carry on in the face of grief and disappointment, we begin to see that even a great setback may contain a gift: the opportunity to discover, through practice, what lies behind sorrow. “How can we reconcile this feast of losses?” asks poet Stanley Kunitz.

Maybe the answer is this simple, this beautiful, this all-encompassing: Amor fati.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Oh, as always, as usual, I read your words in tears. As I think you know that Kunitz line is dear to me, and I’ve written about it before and thought about it very often. I think you’re absolutely right, that it is in opening our hearts and accepting the now that we live that true happiness – or joy, or contentment, or whatever the right word is, since I’m not sure I know it – is. Letting go of our assumptions and our visions of how it would be. Because it’s not that. It is only this. Heartbreaking and beautiful and ugly and surprising and … well, all of it. This. xox

  2. Having been out of work this summer has been tough. This is the second time in a year that the preschool where I work closed its doors to children and their families, and most of all, to dedicated teachers. I have been applying to ALL kinds of different jobs I know I am qualified for but have not received an offer until now. It is my faith, my 7 year old daughter, and my husband that keeps me going. I am at a crossroad and am learning to appreciate my fate day by day.

  3. Oh how I needed this post today, Katrina. Thank you. How difficult it is for me to love my fate, much less accept it – and yet I see so many others around me dealing gracefully with circumstances that would surely bring me to my knees. I hope that I will be reminded to gratefully accept what I have been given as I watch those who face issues far more difficult than my own deal with their fate.

  4. Your best one ever, Katrina.

  5. Oh my! I am (almost) without words. Thank you.

  6. Your openness is warm and dear and generous. Thank you for helping us embrace our humanity.

  7. Stunning essay. Thank you for sharing.

  8. we don’t realize it when it happening but then if we are wise enough to be open and accept things the way they are, we learn to be happy and thankful
    thank you!

  9. Try to find gratitude in your day, everyday. Not always an easy thing, and certainly harder for some. Amor Fati.

  10. This is amazing, the way you link these people in your life, their trials and misfortunes, and come out of the tunnel with a clear view of the sky. Poignant, powerful stuff.

  11. This is my first time ever stopping by your blog. This will not be the last. Incredible writing. Incredible message.

  12. Although I know none of these people in person, my heart breaks — then knits itself back together again — for each and every one. What a beautifully woven story you have created out of three separate, but universal, threads. I have a friend who always signs his emails “amor fati,” and I never knew what it meant. I thought perhaps it meant “true love,” and perhaps it does: true love means to really embrace your fate, which is just about the hardest thing to do. Thank you, as always, for your beautiful message.

  13. This is a beautiful essay. Thank you so much. I’m not a particular fan of the word (or concept) ‘fate.’ But I have slowly learned, over this long life, that accepting the circumstances in which you find yourself is the only way through to the other side of them. But I’m thinking that acceptance does not mean passivity. Rather, there is an invitation in the midst of pain – an invitation to stop for a while, to re-examine, to learn more about trust, to learn from mistakes made and then to move out into whatever comes next. Sounds like that is what you son, your friend and the farmers are doing. Godspeed to each of them.

  14. I joined my three sons this week to go through the family house. Their dad died suddenly in May and a “for sale” sign hangs outside the house. Inside, the house was filled with clues to their growing selves and my married then divorced life. One of my sons wanted to keep everything, one, almost nothing. We worked together for hours remembering. Sometimes, one or another of us would wander off to catch their breath. Amor fati. Each of us will be forever changed in ways we can’t now imagine. But, as we sat around a table at our family’s favorite Indian restaurant we toasted and cheered to loving each other and to whatever comes next. What a wonderful piece to come home to. Thank you, Katrina.

  15. Thanks so much for this lovely post, Katrina. It’s always wonderful to be reminded of how we can always choose how we want to feel, regardless of the circumstance.

    I’ve been a huge fan and student of the Work of Byron Katie for almost 10 years, and it really helps me delve into the stress I’m creating for myself by believing that there is something wrong with the present moment.

    Drawing on Katie’s work, I have become pretty adept at doing what I call the “quick turnaround.”

    For example, when I have a negative thought about some circumstance (that, again, is causing me stress), I’ve learned to come up with at least three genuine and specific examples of how the moment is actually good and necessary.

    If nothing else, I’ve learned to see that the circumstance is teaching me something I need to learn. The present moment is always the perfect teacher, and usually quite kind.

    Once I do the Work, it’s much easier to have compassion or patience with myself. Usually the real cause of the bad feelings is that I’m not feeling valued or appreciated — or, even more to the point, I’m not valuing or appreciating myself and my precious life enough.

    And when I can do that, all is truly well. Amor fati.

  16. Amor fati. The fate part’s beyond my control, and the love part is within my control. The choice is mine alone.

    Loved this moving essay. Somebody’s watching my every response to fate. I hope I’m a winner, not a loser.

  17. A favorite saying: “Divine Right Action is always taking place”.
    Another – appreciation, not expectation.

  18. What a great message. So hard to do, but so important. All the best to your son, Jack.

  19. Thank you for your writings. I look forward to each essay. I have to say this is one of my favorites.
    At times it is so hard to love your fate. It is so easy to place blame, long for what was and worry about what will be. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  20. peggy dlugos says:

    AMEN.

  21. with tears in my eyes, I just want to say thank you.

  22. I especially love the last paragraph where you say what it is that causes our souls to grow. Lots to think about.

  23. Nancy Kreitner says:

    You inspire me with your beautifully crafted words, EVERY TIME!!

  24. I so needed to hear what you had to say. Thank you again and again.

  25. Thank you. As I deal with some of the struggles I have faced this year, your essay speaks to my soul and gives me strength. Amor fati…..what simple but powerful words. I will carry this phrase with me as I deal with what comes my way. As always, your essay captures where I am in life. That is why I always look forward to them!

  26. Thank you Katrina for writing…your words mean so much. I find it amazing that just at the right time you always seem to touch me and my life.

  27. Wow, loved the whole post as always but am most moved by your son and his personal growth. Moved might not even be the correct word, proud is more accurate. Once again, right behind you as my oldest starts his junior year and we together try to make sure we dot every I and cross every t so that he has the best possible options next year when applying. I warn him that one wrong decision can alter his life, that while I understand being 17 and want him to experience everything, he has to be smart and careful ( the idea of a car accident has always been a big fear of mine the thought that up until now I have kept him safe and now it’s out of my hands more often then not makes me crazy). I’m sure a part of u wanted to strangle him for the decisions he made that night that changed his path, how incredible that out of this came lessons and growth! You almost can’t not believe it was meant to be and in some way he will use this experience to be the person he was meant to be. I’m sure this hasn’t been easy on any of u, but wow! Can’t wait to see what that boy of yours does with this new view on life!

  28. perfect

  29. Bernardita Cardenas says:

    Thank you, Katrina, for sharing this…so touching.
    From Buenos Aires, Argentina, I follow your blog which helps me grow and learn how to love more and more deeply.

  30. Amor Fati, indeed. What a beautiful post, Katrina.

    And I arrived home to Minnesota to find your wonderful galley had arrived. It’s wonderful!

  31. Bette Norton says:

    I loved your book A Gift of an Ordinary Day. I will be reading your other books too. I found your blog after I finished the book. I look forward to your essays all of the time. I am amazed when ever I read them, it seems like you are speaking to me personally. They always give me hope and comfort and a drive to keep going and to live a full meaningful life, in spite of my fate. I too am learning to try to accept my fate of a neurological disease that I was diagnosed with three years ago. It has changed my life and I often find myself thinking more about what I used to be able to do, instead of being grateful for what I can do. “Love your Fate” really spoke to me and I have such admiration for your son, for your friend Debbie, and for your farmer friends. You give us such a gift from your writings of inspiration and hope. Thank you for another thought provoking essay. much!!

  32. Katrina
    I am a long time observer of your life from afar! Your writing draws me in and feels like a warm blanket for my soul. This post was especially beautiful because normally the way you tell stories makes it seem like your life is quite serene. This entry helped me realize its not your life that is serene, but the perspective in which you choose to view it.

    Thanks!
    Angela

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