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Monday, August 15, 2016

Why Bad Things Happen to Good People

I am just coming off of one of the worst weeks I have had in the last 7 years.  It literally felt like the universe had this great long TO-DO list of atrocity that it decided to dump into my “IN” box all at once.  And it wasn’t just me; several people I love were dealing with some serious loss and trauma as well.  So I am not writing this from a place of Zen, calm, knowing or assuredness.  I am writing from a shell-shocked place of fear, panic and pain.

There is only one time in my life before that I felt this frightened and unsure of what to do—when my son was a baby and he was going through some scary medical testing that took weeks for results.  It was like living in a perpetual earthquake; when will the world stop shaking and what kind of aftermath of destruction will I have to deal with when it does?  At that time, however, my “Mother Bear” instincts were in full force and fighting for my son was my only focus.  Things are different now.
Now the earthquake is threatening all of the structures in my life and to be perfectly honest it is the “flee” instinct that is kicking in.  I want to run away, hide; find a cave in the wilderness, go inside and roll a rock in front of it until everything is over.  I don’t want to be present for this.  I want to collapse into a heap and stay there until a magical solution to all of my problems drops down from the sky.  I feel incapable; I feel weak.

In spite of all of this, I took a road trip to the Philly area this weekend for a family wedding.  I am calling it a “family” wedding even though I am not related to the family involved; but they have been a constant in my life since the day I was born and were such an intrinsic and important part of my childhood that I feel much closer to them than some of the people who are genetic relations.  The matriarch and my Mother have known each other since grade school; her youngest daughter was my dearest, closest friend growing up and I spent more time in their house than probably any other but my own.
Shaken and out-of-sorts as I am, it was very moving to come together to celebrate this first marriage of the next generation.  Sitting in the church, seeing all of these people I love so much looking happy and healthy reminded me of all of the difficult times they had gone through, both individually and as a clan.  I remembered all of the bad things that have happened to these good people and wanted to weep at seeing everybody so well and celebrating an event so full of optimism for the future and joy.

I won’t pretend it made me feel better about my life in that moment; it did not.  But it did make me feel grateful and connected to grace in a way I hadn’t in many days.  On my way home from this beautiful event, I stopped to visit with another dear friend of many years.  She is the ultimate embodiment of the “Mother Bear” and fate has forced her down to the mat on her kids’ behalf ad naseum; like most parents, her greatest fear is always that the challenges her children face will somehow “ruin their lives”.  I am always quick to contradict her when she vocalizes these sorts of thoughts, even as I myself am wondering if my own life is going to ruin.
We went out to dinner with her son and daughter, both of whom I have known and loved since birth; she and I somehow got to reminiscing about my parents and the home my family lived in when she and I met.  In describing it to her children she said, “When you walked in the door, you felt the love.  You felt loved.”  Her daughter’s response was this:  “Well, I can believe that, because that’s how Aunt Kara’s house is now”.

Sometimes in life you have a moment that takes your breath away; this was such a moment.  I had been so caught up in my anxiety and fear and wretchedness that I had completely lost sight of myself and the premises upon which I have built my life.  It took this beautiful girl who I have known and loved for all 16 years of her life to remind me of a critical fact:  I am a good person.  And just because bad things are happening, I can’t let them change who I am.
Even the Bible offers no special protection to anyone trying to live a good life; in the book of Matthew it says that God “makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust”.  Same goes for earthquakes; the earth is shaking for me right now and will continue to shake for the foreseeable future.  But I cannot process this as a judgment; I cannot accept this as a final verdict on my soul.

Bad things happen to good people.  We all know this and understand it is a part of life.  I have no idea where I will be standing when the shaking stops, but I do know I will still be standing.  When I went through that scary time with my son I stood up because I had to; this time I will keep standing because I want to…I want to continue to love and work and become myself, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.  I want to commit to myself the same way I just watched two young people do with each other on a grand altar.

Just like them, I have no idea what comes next; but I know it won’t be the same as before and I won’t be the same as before.  Unlike them, I don’t feel excited or optimistic or full of plans.  I don’t even feel brave.  I just feel like a little kid who is waiting for the shaking to stop and wishing someone would pick me up and carry me until it does.  But I will not let the bad things convince me that I am bad, or life is bad.  I will wait for the shaking to stop and believe that maybe, just maybe, I can find treasure that was previously buried in the rubble.


  1. Thank you for sharing so openly. I so get this: "...I don’t feel excited or optimistic or full of plans. I don’t even feel brave. I just feel like a little kid who is waiting for the shaking to stop and wishing someone would pick me up and carry me until it does..."

    1. Thank you for this comment. I keep reminding myself we all go through times like this. For me the last time happened when my Dad died and just like then I find myself wishing he was here.

  2. Can't pick you up and carry you, but I am holding you in my thoughts and prayers. Breathe.