Destiny vs Decision in Shakespeare's Words

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Every spring for the last six years, I have introduced a group of nervous ninth-graders to the first man I loved: William Shakespeare. As I pronounce those first words, "Two households, both alike in dignity," and set Romeo and Juliet spinning to their doom, I know these kids think they are reading the greatest love story ever written. I spend the next six weeks trying to force them to see beyond the utter beauty and heart-breaking romance of Shakespeare's words to understand that the play is a tragedy, a cautionary tale for teenagers and their parents. Inevitably, we come to the same sticking point: could Romeo and Juliet have avoided their fate? Were they indeed "star-crossed" (or as Romeo puts it, "fortune's fool[s]")? Or were they victims of circumstance, of their own ill-advised decisions, and of the actions of misguided adults? Since Shakespeare leaves room for both interpretations, I always turn to personal experience for an answer.

My own love story is not actually a romance with a long-dead poet, but my courtship with a wonderful man two years my senior. (Ironically, Mr. Shakespeare, he is an attorney, but wonderful, nonetheless. It's a very famous Shakespearean quote, kids: "Kill all the lawyers.") Our story does lend itself to the argument for fate. We met in college - sort of. I first noticed him during Pepperdine's freshman orientation, where he participated in a presentation about the university's international programs. During the same assembly, the upperclassmen joked about the number of couples who met at "Pepp" and later married. One quipped, "Your future spouse could be in this very room." I got goose bumps while everyone else looked around and laughed nervously. I was secretly convinced that it might actually be true.

We were formally introduced by his girlfriend, who was an acquaintance of mine and my scene partner in acting class, but our paths didn't cross much after that. Once, when he spoke at our school's weekly convocation, I leaned over to a sorority sister and said that I knew his girlfriend, and that I wished I could end up with someone "like him." We were both active Greeks, and at the time that his mother passed away, I was serving as corresponding secretary and was responsible for sending a sympathy card on behalf of the chapter. Standing in the card aisle, trying to select something appropriate, I began to cry, and had to explain to my roommate that I didn't actually know him, but that he just seemed so nice that it wasn't fair that something like this should happen to him.

When we were set up on a blind date five years later, he only vaguely remembered meeting me in college. So much for love at first sight. This is where fate seems to have stepped out.

After that first date, I almost declined to go out again, but was convinced by a friend's husband that, since he seemed to have met all the requirements on my list, I should try again. Several weeks and four or five dates later, I panicked and almost ruined everything. He decided that I must be as crazy as all the other girls he'd dated and stopped calling. After a few very quiet days, in desperation, I called and apologized. Within three months, we had each experienced, separately, a moment where we looked at the other and thought, "I'm going to marry this person." So, was this our destiny? Or were our early interactions only coincidence? Was my awareness of him in college merely a crush, or was it because I tend to be more spiritual, more intuitive than him? In other words, were the signs there, even though he didn't see them? Was fate toying with us? Were we bound to meet, one way or another? What would have happened if I didn't call, after all? Fortunately, I did call, and we were married in July of 2005, three and a half years after our first date. In a formal church wedding, we exchanged rings, meant to be a symbol of love that has no end and no beginning.

Inscribed inside his ring are the words, "My destiny and my decision."