I am writing this from my hotel room in New Orleans, under the spell of memories from the past. In this city, where I spent three of my four college years, my visit has filled me with nostalgia and a sudden sharp awareness of unintended consequences.
Barely a month into my freshman year, I happened to notice a call for auditions for The Fantasticks, a musical I adored, on an obscure bulletin board. Luckily, there was still time for me to try out, so I screwed my courage to the sticking place, took my shot, and got the part. And from that moment, my future was sealed. I changed my major from English to Theater and never looked back.
I’m here today to attend the wedding of a child of a college friend, the one who had played my father in The Fantasticks those many years ago. As my friend prepares to hand over his son’s welfare to the lovely bride, I hark back to that play, in which the fathers of two young lovers fret over their children’s future.
After the marriage ceremony, in a toast to the bride and groom, my friend spoke about how unintended consequences had brought the young couple and all of us together for the joyous occasion. In essence, he said that, if he and I had never met, and if I had not subsequently married a man who, at his own alma mater, had wholeheartedly supported the campus club where the young couple met, their knowing one another—and thus their wedding—might never have happened.
Later, when my goosebumps subsided, as we gaily marched down the street behind the happy couple in a jazz band “second line,” I harked back even further, to the what if’s of the past. How do any of us end up to be the people we are, circumscribed by the mates and friends and places that define our lives? And who would we have become if the path had shifted even slightly?
As my mind slides from the sublime celebration that took place only hours ago to my everyday task at hand—finishing the third book in the Samantha Newman Mystery Series—I’m still feeling the impact of my friend’s comment about unintended consequences. As an author, I face fateful choices every day for my main character. Will she? Won’t she? Should she? Would she? It’s a constant inner dialogue as I decide Samantha’s future.
And yet, in real life, do we ever give those unintended consequences a second thought?
Gay Yellen writes the award-winning