Wondering What Harry’s Doing: Free Will and Unintended Consequences

Written by Chuck Gruenwald on April 26, 2014

There are those who believe that everything happens for a reason – perhaps everything that we live through was planned long before any of us were born. While this thought may bring comfort to some who are struggling to make sense out of a tragedy that makes no sense, it also raises the question of whether or not there is such a gift as free will.

My inner debate over destiny versus free will raised new questions recently after I was shown a newspaper article regarding a former co-worker. For the sake of discussion, he will be referred to as Henry. According to this article, Henry had been arrested for DUI and vehicular manslaughter; he allegedly had struck and killed a pedestrian while driving under the influence.

As is the rule when it comes to conducting a Web search on such tragedies, I had been unable to find an online obituary or any other article about the life of the individual who had died that day; every search referred back to Henry and the crime. For whatever reason, victims and their families are not as interesting or newsworthy to journalists as is the perpetrator – that is unless a reporter could bring a family member to tears for no other reason than to exploit their pain and loss on TV in the name of ratings.

As I remember, Henry was a loud character, since he loved attention. He was also benign, definitely not threatening. Henry had at least one child, who is about twenty five years-old by now.

The contrast between Henry’s two mug shots tells quite a story. In the photo taken on the day of the incident, Henry had a grin on his face; an expression that suggests that he does not yet know what those of us had learned thanks to hindsight. The picture taken at the county jail two days later shows an individual who is coming to terms with the reality that his life has taken a very different course. The grin is gone – Henry may not see the outside of the cement walls that now surround him for a long time.

In addition to my debate over free will, Henry’s circumstances also raised questions that I have about forgiveness.

What had happened that night still has some details that need to be addressed in order for me to have a better understanding of how Henry and the deceased ended-up meeting at that moment. Why was the deceased walking on that road? Was this perhaps the result of a flat tire? Was that person crossing a street, and failed to see Henry’s vehicle?

Regardless of the string of events, one person is in jail – maybe for five to seven years, and at the other end of this tragedy, there is a family who had to unexpectedly bury a loved one. Despite not having any luck finding out more about the deceased, it is hard to not wonder about those who have been left behind and the new void in their lives.

The senselessness of what had happened makes me think about just how difficult it may be for the survivors to forgive Henry. To forgive is not easy, since among other details, the offender plays an important role in the process. There are those who hurt others in the hopes that the victim cannot differentiate between forgiveness and gullibility, such as the career perpetrator who is only sorry for being caught.

As time moves on, and Henry and the now-incomplete family slowly try to accept their new lives, will one party reach out to the other to begin the act of forgiveness? Or, will hatred always exist between strangers whose futures have intersected as the result of a senseless death?

At random times during the day, I ask myself “What is Henry Doing right now.” Of course, the answer is almost obvious. Henry never planned for his life to take such a tragic turn, since he is the friendly type. There is also a family that is supposed to have a loved one who is supposed to come home every night.

I also wonder if such a tragedy were meant to happen, or if the ability to exercise free will is responsible for this chain of events.

When each of my days are over, there are now several more people whom I think about in my prayers: an individual whom I had known long ago who now has thoughts in his head that I cannot imagine, and an unknown number of strangers whom I may never meet, but also have to comprehend a new reality that I also cannot imagine.

Image: Courtesy of: http://www.sevenwholedays.org/2011/09/07/death-by-grief/

Born in Chicago and raised in northwest suburban Cook County, Chuck Gruenwald developed an unfavorable opinion of machine politics quite early in life. In addition to cars, electronics, law enforcement, and politics, Chuck enjoys writing, and is also a horse racing fan. He has recently written op-eds for uncommonshow.com