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LIFE HONESTLY

Fate can’t sort my life out. I must do that for myself

When her husband died, Poorna Bell was forced to face the fact that things don’t always “happen for a reason”. It’s an empowering lesson

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By Poorna Bell on

Coming from a Hindu family with a loose grasp of religion (sorry, Mum, but in 36 years you have still never known when Diwali is), I’ve never been one for structured faith. And until I became an atheist a few years ago, I preferred to dine at the buffet of agnosticism – a bit of this, a bit of that, but never fully committing to any one thing.

In my twenties however, when it came to astrology, tarot readings, angel cards, palmistry, coffee grounds, tea leaves, you name it, I was a hardcore believer. Even if you’d told me you could decipher my future from the spray of cat urine, I’d have eagerly signed up. I believed in star signs, that fate had great things in store for me and that meeting the man of my dreams was destiny.

Fast forward to the present day and too much has happened for me to believe that balls of fire and gas have any purpose other than existing and praying they don’t turn into a black hole. But I am surprised at how many people still believe the planets determine the course of their life, and that there is a plan which will guarantee a happy ending. Horoscopes are still one of the most popular pages in a newspaper or on a website. Just recently, I had a heated debate with an aunt who said “things happen for a reason”.

The reason I can’t get into the things-happen-for-a-reason conversation without losing my shit is because of two events that happened in my life. The first was finding out five years ago that, at the age of 31, I had a 1in hole in my heart. And I remember as the doctor was telling me, while my mum held one of my hands and my dad held the other, this sense of staggering disbelief.

Where was my diagnosis in the hundreds of palm readings? How could this huge thing have been going on and I had no clue? Didn't this kind of stuff happen to other people? Moreover, wasn’t someone up there supposed to be looking out for me? And with that last thought vanished any vestige of faith, because the reality was wishing on a star was not going to fix me – a team of doctors was.

The second was far bigger. Two and a half years ago, my husband Rob passed away by suicide. He’d been struggling with depression and being an addict, and in the end could not reconcile his own future. And even though Rob was an atheist, I saw him go to churches and temples when he was in recovery, desperately wanting to be saved because he believed he wasn’t strong enough to do it himself. And I remember on the night he went missing before he died, I prayed. I didn’t know who or what I was praying to, but I got on my knees and I wished with all my heart that if he was OK, I would do anything. But he still died.

I don't think I asked the right questions about my life in my twenties because deep down I relied on some unknown force to sort it out for me

I’m not so arrogant as to dismiss other people’s belief systems, and truly, I think you should go with what gives you strength. But what I want to know is: if there is a plan, where does Rob’s death fit into it? Who was looking out for him? Where was his ending on the lines of my palm? Because I can never believe that his passing away was destiny. Or fate.

I understand that there is a comfort in believing that something will come along to make sense of uncertainty. But I also think it absolves us of a responsibility for making decisions about our lives. I saw it when Rob was seeking salvation outside of himself, and I had to learn it the hard way when I was trying to put my life back together. I don't think I asked the right questions about my life in my twenties because deep down I relied on some unknown force to sort it out for me. It may seem scary, believing that you and only you are responsible for your life. Yes, there are times when you will fail and make the wrong decisions. Of course, there is a sense of loneliness and fear that comes from worrying that you will fuck it all up. But there is also an incredible sense of empowerment and freedom that comes with placing yourself, not some glassy ball, at the centre of your universe.

When Rob died, I realised how alone I was in all of this. That I had no idea what my future would be like. Would I meet someone? Would I ever be happy again? It left me feeling incredibly lost. But believing in planetary alignment wasn’t an option because the plan – if ever there was one – had gone to hell. Although it has been hard, what has happened is a huge sense of surety in myself. I have learnt to listen to myself more, trust my own instincts. I’m not wondering what the plan is because I am the plan, and there is great comfort to be had in that.

Don’t get me wrong – I still have no idea what I’m doing with my life half the time. But I know that by making mistakes and owning them, I’m creating a strong, stable path that will keep me going in the most challenging times – made clear by my own light, not that of the stars. 

@poornabell

Sali Hughes is away.

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