In Other People’s Trades, Primo Levi talks about sidewalks:
“Sidewalks are a highly civilized institution: present-day Romans know this, because they lack sidewalks entirely, and when they want to walk somewhere are forced to make their way through unnerving labyrinths of cars parked too close to the walls. The Romans of long ago knew it, too, and they built the sidewalks good and high in Pompeii; and Fra Cristoforo in The Betrothed was well aware of the issue, since he had in fact become a friar because a certain sidewalk was lacking entirely, or it was muddy, or too narrow, and in any case he was as a result forced into an unfortunate clash that caused him to change both name and destiny.”
It was nothing more than the properties of a sidewalk that remodelled Fra Cristoforo’s future. In my own life, I can think of multiple seemingly inconsequential things that have set me upon entirely different paths: a deed I shouldn’t have witnessed, an action I should but didn’t take, a chance meeting, an opportunistic word heard or uttered, something seen by someone else or something shown to me. So many little things have irrevocably altered my life, and as I meditate upon them I cannot help but see long-held notions of grand purpose and ultimate destiny dissolve. Doesn’t the fact that things so small can alter a life in such large and diverse ways makes my belief in such constructs absurd?