It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves ~ William Shakespeare
It’s always sad to see the summer fade into fall, even though fall is ultimately my favorite of all seasons, and even harder to see the fall be swallowed by Winter. Fall on the west coast can be rainy, but honestly, when isn’t it rainy? In my memory anyway, it’s quite often still sunny, but it’s easy to tell that the sun is farther away as the heat, or what we call heat, disappears. Then the most remarkable and beautiful thing happens, the leaves on the trees go from their brilliant green to being on fire. The city is filled with bursts of yellow, burning orange and bright, blood red. I find myself in awe as I walk home from work, bundled up in my hoodie and coat, yet still sporting sunglasses, at the colours surrounding me and the sunlight filtering through. Unfortunately when the Winter comes, those same awe inspiring flames of colour become wet, mushy lumps, cluttering up the street and clogging the drains. The Winter here is a perfect time to retreat indoors and binge on Netflix. At least that’s what I tell myself while I’m sidelined with an injury.
My Breath Of Fresh Air (BOFA) and I were doing just that and bingeing our way through two seasons of Ozark. I love Jason Bateman’s character, very dry and deadpan with a crooked side. If you haven’t seen the show and think you might, then you may or may not want to skip this part. I’ll give it a spoiler alert warning but I’m not sure it’s that integral to the plot line. In Season One there is a flashback episode where we learn of how and why some of the characters end up as they are, including Marty’s wife. There is a terrible car accident and Marty’s wife loses their unborn child. Tragic and terrible. Marty is sitting in a cafe with his long-time friend and business partner, Bruce, while his wife is still in the hospital. The exchange goes like this:
Bruce: Marty, you can’t blame yourself for what happened.
*Blah blah blah*
Bruce: I’m serious, there’s nothing you could do. Like my dad always said, “Everything happens for a reason.”
When this line was muttered my ears perked up. This has been an ongoing debate in my head, kind of like the chicken or the egg. Does everything happen for a reason? Or does shit just happen and we make up reason after the fact to make ourselves feel better? Do we attach meaning after something happens to “lessen the blow”? Believing that the struggle is for some greater understanding, for some greater lesson that needs to be learned, could possibly bring comfort. Or it could just be completely condescending and ill-timed words of encouragement.
In the rant that follows it was clear what Marty believed.
Marty: Your dad sounds like he was full of shit.
With all due respect…You really believe that?
You really think that there’s some…some preordained chart, floating around in the ether with our fate all figured out?
-I don’t know about a preordained chart–
-That’s a bunch of crap. Things happen because human beings make decisions, they commit acts…and that makes things happen. And it creates a snowball effect with the…you know, their world around them,causes other people to make decisions. Cycle continues, snowball keeps rolling. And even when that’s not the case, when life’s events are not connected to other people’s decisions and actions,it’s not some bullshit fucking test sent down from the universe to check your resolve, you know.
-I mean, what would the reason be for some healthy five-year-old to get a brain tumor?
Or why would a tsunami wipe out a village?
You tell those families everything happens for a reason. No, sometimes people make decisions, shit happens, and we gotta act accordingly. Or you can… crawl in a hole and die, you know?
-Well, it was a shitty thing for me to say and…
[clears throat] …I’m sorry, bud.
Retreating to my trusty Google search revealed enough literature, I hesitate to say evidence, to support either side of the debate. Chicken or egg? Reassuring ourselves that everything happens for a reason is merely a coping strategy and provides reassurance, likely the same way religion does. Belief, or faith, in a greater plan, bad things don’t happen to good people, at least, not without a reason, a greater purpose. But they do. All the time.
Interestingly this phrase is only commonly used when shit goes sideways, not when things are going according to plan. This statement is often dropped when bad things happen to the people around us. I question whether it’s to make that person feel better or if the true intention is to make us feel better as pain is very uncomfortable to witness. What I did find in agreement in the Google offerings was that this well meaninged phrase, or others in the same wheelhouse, are not helpful. It actually impedes the grieving process and encourages others to push aside and cover up their pain, as though they should just get over it and move on because the Universe has a plan. But bad things do happen, and as stated so well in the Huffington Post:
“…for no other reason other than we are human beings having a human experience.”
Suffering and pain are an innate part of life. We attach meaning, and the “reason” for something occurring, long after we have witnessed the unfolding of the events. Once we have the full picture. And this “reason” or attached meaning is only based on our own perception of the events and the experience. It is formed after we know the whole story. In fact, the meaning we attach can change as the story unfolds and the plot lines change or become clearer.
It is also human to want to find the meaning, and to assign this meaning, to events that are unexplainable or uncontrollable. We yearn for definitions and reasons and to categorize and put things and ideas and events in boxes that make sense. But sometimes there is no reason, and the unexplained remains just that, unexplainable. Our lives can still be meaningful even if things are just chance, random accidents. The lessons, personal growth and increased resilience that we gain from all of our experiences provides meaning.
Is believing that everything happens for a reason also a way to remove or shift any accountability or responsibility for the events in our lives?
Is believing that events are merely accidents, that shit happens and you deal with it, suggesting we have more control over than we may (or may not) have?
I still am unsure of where I come down on this debate. Chicken! No egg! Well wait a minute…maybe chicken? I believe I have a stronger belief that shit happens and we deal with it, sometimes effectively and sometimes not. And when the dust settles, we attach meaning based on our perspective and who we have become as a result. But, then again, what the fuck do I know?
To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering ~ Friedrich Nietzsche