Monday, March 23, 2015

Everything Doesn't Happen For A Reason

Memes. You love them, I love them. Ok, if you're like me, most of the time I hate them; they're often trite and they fill up your Facebook feed like mosquitoes infest your backyard on a hot summers day. Of course there are exceptions, but most of the time, they leave me wanting to reach for my empty Wal-Mart bag in case my Kraft Dinner regurgitates. For those of you who aren't familiar with memes, they are short quotes or inspirational sayings that are often placed on cutesy pictures of kittens or daffodils. Here's an example (though sadly without any felines or flowers):

Just in case you are looking for a little bit of extra "inspiration," here's exhibit B:

Now, I realize that for some people - ok, a lot of people, considering how many people create and post these memes - sayings and beliefs like this seem to be helpful. This particular article is, admittedly, not for those people. It's for those of us who see these memes, or worse are told these things in person, and immediately wish we were truly in a better place - like in a dentists chair having a root canal.

Let's look at the first meme:

1) "You are exactly where you are supposed to be." Really? Would you say this to people in any of the following situations?

  • The child who is born with fetal alcohol syndrome and then bounces around foster homes, wherein they are abused and neglected.
  • The promising young ballet dancer who is struck by ALS at the very beginning of her career.
  • The father of four who works countless hours as a trucker in order to support his family, only to accidentally fall asleep at the wheel and crash on the highway, losing his life.
  • The families of the 227,898 people who died on Boxing Day 2004 after a massive earthquake caused a tsunami, ravaging South Asia.
  • The grandmother who has to go down to the police station and bail out her grandson - again - just because of the colour of his skin.
  • Families of the 6,000,000 Jews, mentally ill people, homosexuals, and the disabled, etc, who were gassed, shot, or starved to death at the hands of the Nazis.
Looking at the second meme, there's this quote: 

1) "Sometimes the best thing you can do is not think, not wonder, not imagine, not obsess. Just breathe, and have faith that everything will work out for the best."

I can agree that it's seldom a great idea to obsess over anything, but not think, not wonder, not imagine? Really? What species does one have to belong to in order to practice this? Let's face it, we all go through things in our lives that challenge us; perhaps it isn't ALS or abuse, maybe it's loneliness or an unfulfilling job, or grief at the loss of our youth. Sometimes it is helpful to distract ourselves by putting on a funny movie or listening to our favourite music, but at some point, we're going to have to face what it is we are truly living with and feeling. Going through life with a mentality that "well, I know that this will work out for the best" is not always possible, nor does such a mentality always endure. Sometimes the next-door neighbours will always choose to live in a mutually-abusive relationship. Sometimes a relative will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's and they will not receive a miracle cure. Sometimes a perfectly well-mannered boy will find his mother's gun collection, travel to the school where she teaches, and murder 26 people, 20 of them children. Tell these people that "everything will work out for the best."

There are two words within the second meme that I will only briefly touch on: They are: "have faith" that everything will work out for the best. If there's one thing that I dislike more than pithiness or triteness, perhaps it is religious pithiness or triteness. Now, several people who read this blog will know that I have a distaste for fundamentalist, evangelical religion; I fully admit this. Let me also say that I know that religious (or other kinds) of faith can be very helpful and very comforting to many people - millions of people. Also, not every religious person's faith is pithy or trite; they take their faith seriously, know what they believe and why, and have logical, rational reasons for believing what they do. But there are those, I believe, who for years have barely managed to hang on to their version of faith because without it they simply wouldn't know what to do. They'd fall apart. Often this kind of faith can be comforting for a time, but after awhile can become more of a passive resignation that "someone up there" is handling things and is taking care of them. It would take another article for me to articulate what I think of this kind of God/Deity. Countless questions arise such as "How does God decide which child makes it through leukemia and which one dies? Does God not save a mother from a traffic accident because she failed to pray enough? The questions go on and on, but I'll leave that for now.

Everything does not happen for a reason. 

Babies are stillborn.

Young men from stable, loving families become hooked on crack.

Seemingly perfect marriages break up after 20 years and the wife learns that her husband has been cheating on her whenever he goes away on business.

Earthquakes level entire towns and cities.

Now, can we learn from the adversities or tragedies that we face? Of course. Can we make the best of a situation and turn things around? Sometimes. Does everything that seems like an obstacle have to be crippling? No. But please, don't tell me, or anyone who is going through a difficult or tragic time, that everything happens for a reason. 

A bit earlier, I wrote that some people of faith hold onto it because without faith they would fall apart. 

Why not fall apart? 

Isn't this how we feel anyways when tragedy/sickness/insert here happens? Rather than trying a myriad of coping mechanisms to make it through each day, each week, each year, or our entire lives, why can't we be honest with our reality and with our feelings? In the movie Shadowlands, professor and author C.S. Lewis (played by Anthony Hopkins) tells one of his students "Fight me. I can take it!" The truth is, sometimes we have good days, and sometimes life just really really sucks; it's horrible and lonely and bleak and it's all we can do to wake up in the morning and manage to put one foot in front of the other. 

What then, if things don't always happen for a reason and we do not use the coping mechanisms that many times leave us embattled, frayed, and weary? This is where the importance of personal honesty comes in. Yes, I feel like shit today, and I'm going to admit it. I feel like shit. Now what can I do about it? Perhaps I will let myself feel this way for an hour, a day, or even months. But then I will take the time to do what works for me to get into a better frame of mind when it becomes possible. For myself, mindfulness and brief times of meditation are helping. The second key, I believe, is relationships. We are not here to fix anybody. We are not here to take on anyone's heavy load forever. However, in times of great need, we can come alongside another, and have them come alongside us, and slowly some healing takes place and some peace may be found. Friends are important. Family is important. For myself, a personal therapist is important.

I just need to be for real, and feel all these emotions that make me human. I have no room for pithiness or for trite sayings. Everything does not happen for a reason.

Mark Andrew Nouwen