One thing that occurs to me from time to time is the apparently random nature of our lives and the courses that they take. All sorts of things completely outside our control impact on our lives -- our gender, where we were born, our parents, the schools we attend, the opportunities presented to us, the people we meet... The list goes on and on. These kinds of things have an enormous influence on us, our behaviour and the choices we make.
And yet, the things we do ourselves can also have a huge impact on our lives. As a parent, this is something I worry about frequently. What my children choose to do or not do will affect their lives, for better or for worse. And what if they make the wrong decisions? In a world as competitive and unforgiving as ours, second chances are rare.
These sentiments were brought home to me very strongly this week when I was listening to 'A Life Less Ordinary' on Radio 4. The guest was Sandra Gregory, who, in 1993, was arrested for attempting to smuggle heroin out of Thailand. She was imprisoned for a total of seven years, five of which she spent in an infamous Thai jail. She was just twenty-eight when she was detained.
So, Gregory's decision to carry drugs impacted hugely on her life, pure and simple. But the reasons leading up to her decision were complex: she was suffering from a bout of dengue fever and couldn't work; she therefore had no money; she was desperate to come back home to the UK. And then she met a man who offered her a 'solution' -- carry this heroin out of Thailand for me and I'll give you £1,000.
As a parent, you can only hope that your child will never find themselves in that kind of situation. Or that, if they do, they make a sensible decision and find a safe way out. Yet who knows what kind of external factors will drive the decisions that your children make? Personality plays a part, of course, but it's those things that lie outside our control (the opportunities presented to us, the people we meet...) that can so often tip the balance.
The old adage 'There but for the grace of God go I' springs to mind. Cold comfort at the best of times, and even colder comfort when the 'I' refers to your son or daughter.