Why Do Terrible Things Happen To Wonderful People?
Why make a universe that hurts?
Hi Wonderful People!
I had a lot of social anxiety as a kid, and would have a small panic attack each time a Jehovah’s Witness walked up our driveway. I wasn’t comfortable talking to strangers, especially those who wanted to convert me. One afternoon when I was a teenager, I opened the door to find two people holding bibles on my doorstep. Before I could blurt, “No thank you,” and politely shut the door, they said, “If you give us just five minutes we will tell you why terrible things happen to wonderful people.” I invited them in.
I don’t recall any of what they said that day. It’s possible I was simply too young at the time to understand. I just know that when we said goodbye, I had even less of a clue as to why there were illnesses that caused unrelenting pain, why so many parents were forced to grieve the lost lives of their young children, why people were starving all over the globe, why pain itself existed?
The question might be the reason for every religion in the world. We want to make sense of devastation. We want to comprehend the incomprehensible. As a kid I wanted to go back 13.8 billion years to the beginning of time and ask, “Why make a universe that hurts?”
“It’s God’s will,” said my Sunday School teacher, each time I asked the question. “Why wasn’t it God’s will to make a planet where everyone is happy and healthy and fed all the time?” I’d respond, but never got an answer that didn’t irritate the living daylights out of me.
“Destruction is as vital as creation,” said my highschool science teacher. I’d ponder it for days at a time, accepting that exploding stars were vital. Black holes swallowing whole planets were vital. I knew erupting volcanoes fertilized the soil. I knew bunnies lost their lives so coyotes could eat dinner. But I couldn’t find a reason for human suffering. “Why?’ I’d keep asking. “Why make a universe that hurts?”
The day I was diagnosed with cancer, my therapist of sixteen years visited me in the hospital. Still drugged from surgery, I held my mother’s hand while she comforted us both with her gentle words. Just a couple of years prior she herself had received a cancer diagnosis. I’d watched her move through that time with grace and asked her to tell my mother and I how she had done it. “I decided from the very beginning that I was going to live in gratitude every second I could. I decided to hunt out joy wherever it could be found.”
Had she not said that, I might have spent the past two years in the relentless throes of never receiving an answer to the question, “Why is this happening?” It’s not that the question itself stopped knocking on my door. When I see friends and family in pain it’s still often impossible for me not to beg, “Why?” But when it comes to my own life challenges, for my own life’s sake, I have replaced that question with another: “How will I suck the sweetness out of this moment in my life, in spite of how bitter it may seem?”
The how, for me, is acceptance. To work to never battle with the facts of my life. To surrender to the knowing that living is full of challenges, and will always be full of challenges. I’ve shared this sentiment often in this newsletter, but it’s rocked me ever since I first heard Eckhart Tolle say it. To paraphrase—”Life is difficult. But it stops being so difficult when we expect it’s going to be difficult.”
Because there is so much human suffering that we can actually eliminate—with our activism, learning, or basic kindness, I think it lends us to unconsciously think we could do away with pain altogether. We’re inclined to believe that when we are struggling it is wrong or unfair. I don’t feel it’s wrong or unfair that I have cancer. It just is. The sense that it just is at once relaxes me and gives me the energy to fine-tune the instrument of my spirit so I can make as much music as possible from whatever comes my way.
Though it is now, this wasn’t initially a spiritual endeavor for me. In the beginning I had one very primitive goal—to suffer less. Don’t we all want to suffer less? Knowing chemo and cancer were going to bring physical struggles unlike any I’d experienced before, I knew I needed to have my mind and spirit be as buoyant as they could be. Acceptance was the first step in that process. Acceptance taught me that if the whole day is cloudy and the sun comes out for only a split second, I better get to juicing the sun for every sweet drop.
Each time I share this story, I share it knowing it’s my way, and my way isn’t for everyone. There are so many empowering paths to engaging the challenges in life. I’d love to hear what helps you suffer less. Consider the comment section of this post as my front door, opened wide, inviting you into my heart’s home, to hear what you have to say.
Love, Andrea 🖤