A reason?…

storm at sea

“Everything happens for a reason.”

Some of the most caring people i know have said this to comfort me in the midst of tragic circumstances. I have received it with warm gratitude for their empathy. Yet inwardly, i admit, i have also grimaced and rolled my eyes.

Many people must find comfort in the sentiment, since it is so commonly expressed. Perhaps the conviction behind it is, “If some meaning can be found in this awful thing, that makes it a bit less awful, and a bit easier to hang on through it.”

But i have a hard time hearing it without the subtext that there is somehow intent behind the adversity. I don’t find that comforting. A story from my old believing days will get at what i mean.

The Genesis tale of Joseph illustrates a misfortune later seen to have led to a beneficial outcome. It was Joseph’s brothers who brought him calamity by selling him into slavery; they were responsible, not god.

When Joseph later holds their fates in his hands, having risen to leadership in a neighboring country – where his brothers come asking for aid in a time of famine – Joseph attributes his favorable position to divine providence. Addressing his brothers, he says, “You intended to harm me, but god intended it for good.”

That always seemed to me a crucial distinction — crediting humans for the bad and god for the good. It makes sense to apply it to a tragedy in the news such as the Las Vegas shootings. We were all heartened to see how people heroically assisted each other, even sacrificing for strangers. But no one would say it was good that the shooting happened so that folks could help each other. At least i hope not.

It’s a little harder to apply the principle to recent tragedies of nature — hurricanes, floods and wildfires — because no human intent is involved. Or what about when a loved one receives a terrible medical diagnosis? What if a god has nothing to do with it, and we chalk it up to the randomness of the universe?

Few people whose purpose is to comfort say, “God wanted this awful thing to happen.” But many i know say, “Everything happens for a reason” — which is still jarring to me, a little too close to saying indirectly that this very bad thing should have happened. (Yes, i react the same way to, “It was meant to be” — for the same reasons.)

It’s a significant improvement to say instead, “Something good can come out of this” — but dire circumstances call for sensitivity about timing. In the thick of it, better to simply come alongside and reflect that you can only imagine how difficult this must be. Being present is more important than saying the right thing.

When i look at the treasures that have come from challenging times in my life, i see that grief had to be allowed to work its way out. It becomes possible only in uncertain steps with unpredictable timing for the good to overtake the bad; in my experience, it has never come from having a reason. Along the way, we make micro-choices to revel in the sweet — such as the friends who warmed my heart with visits and meals when i was sick — without denying the bitter.

So when someone i know is facing tragedy, i won’t say to them, “Everything happens for a reason.” It isn’t honest of me. I do say, “I’m so sorry for you that this hurts so much.”

A Hansen observance…

lightning rainbow

Four years ago today i returned to the surname Hansen after many years away from it (as noted on this blog’s About page). Thoughts about the significance of that change formed a large part of the rationale for starting this project.

As chance would have it, less than three months later, i was diagnosed with cancer.  In a longer post a year later i discussed why i wasn’t making that a prominent blog topic.

Anniversaries have a way of spurring us to take stock, to big-picture our everyday experiences. This one is compelling me to ruminate about all that has happened since then. About the way the passage of time can make the exact same event seem like yesterday and like ages ago.

Often i think about how the circumstances i’m dealing with affect others in my life. Coincidentally enough, i recently came across two articles that refer to the experiences of the health-challenged person’s friends and family, both authored by the patients themselves.

The first, by memoirist Cory Taylor, answered questions she was often asked by others in response to learning of her illness. It struck me that my post (linked above) did a little of the same thing — and answered a few of the same questions she did. She noted that the questions she was fielding were all ones she’d already been posing to herself — and that they hadn’t changed over the ten years between her diagnosis and when she wrote the essay.

The second article, by screenwriter Josh Friedman, discussed the role of bravery in dealing with a difficult diagnosis, and whether it’s helpful for well-meaning friends and family to encourage it or compliment the patient for it. His answer to that, in my condensed paraphrase, is this:  While appreciated as coming from the best intentions, emphasizing courage can be unhelpful to the degree it prevents well wishers from empathizing with weakness — and to the degree it implicitly though unintentionally suggests that if the illness “wins” it means we patients weren’t brave enough or didn’t fight hard enough.

In my case, i am no longer having to fight the c-word itself; it was successfully defeated for now as far as the docs can tell. There are, however, ongoing battles related to the fall-out from various past treatments. Argh – i keep catching myself using warrior language; much as i might favor a fresher framework, it’s very hard to get away from.

It’s also true that almost everybody is struggling with something — something no less (and maybe more) difficult just because it’s not out in the open — whether physical, emotional, relational or all of the above.

So let me use this date-marker to remind myself and others that what helps us most to not give up is knowing there are others who know where we are. (By the way, that goes for not giving up on dreams as well as not giving up in our struggles.)

And now that, according to the calendar, this blog is exiting its toddler phase, i want to express my gratitude to who all who’ve dropped by here and have hopefully found something of interest.

A concentrated mind…

mapThe plans we map out for ourselves rarely follow their set course without detours.

The exploring post i wrote earlier this year commended the courage of those that set out to sea, into the perilous unknown.

Some of us who do not see ourselves as brave, though, are thrust out to sea against our will. And all we can do is make our way to some sort of shore, on an adventure we didn’t choose. In the process (to paraphrase the old saying), facing one’s impending demise wonderfully concentrates the mind.

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Writing of two wrongs…

I do not know anyone who has not been wronged by another person.

In fact, i don’t know anyone who would say they have been wronged only once. Many of us could recite a litany of slights, large and small.

If we are self-aware enough, we know that we wrong others as well, whether unintentionally or deliberately.

Integrity requires that we do what is reasonable and within our power to make things right. Deciding whether to re-approach someone we’ve hurt (or who has hurt us) usually isn’t easy, and depends on the magnitude of the offense, the closeness of the person and how long ago it took place.

It’s rather futile, though, to ‘require’ integrity of someone else. There may be compelling reasons to confront them anyway. And that’s what this essay is about.

Within the past few months, i found myself presented with two opportunities to address two unrelated past injustices toward me. (Both original situations were severe enough to solicit legal assistance.)

The first of those past events happened several years ago. The chance to go back to it sprang up unexpectedly after all that time — a window that opened suddenly and would close swiftly.

The other event happened only a year and a half ago, and deliberating over what, if anything, to do about it constituted a process of several months.

In either case, letting the past rest untouched was as rational an option as choosing to re-open the difficult drama. Leaving the past alone meant preserving whatever peace i’d managed to arrive at, whereas re-entering the fray would be aimed at reminding those responsible that what they did was wrong, even though they’d got away with it.

In both cases, i ultimately chose to confront the persons involved — one face to face, the other by way of a legal action.

Neither outcome was entirely satisfactory — but then, defining what to be satisfied by is part of the processing.

Here’s what i’ve concluded about the considerations involved and about whether it was worthwhile:

  1. Success or failure is not determined by whether you get the response you hope for. There is inherent rightness in acting against injustice.
  2. If the other person was callous or indifferent enough to have caused the harm in the first place, the likelihood may be low that they’ll see it any differently when you confront them later. And yet…
  3. If they are of the rare breed who are willing to consider your experience, you will have given them an opening for righting a wrong that they might welcome. And yet…
  4. If they remain closed to you — as was the case for me, especially in my face-to-face venture — there may be an internal effect that you won’t get to witness, depending on how they contemplate it afterward and how hardened they remain. And because you can’t know for sure…
  5. You have to think carefully about the risk of re-injury before you make such a move. It’s entirely appropriate to conclude you’re not up for that possibility. But if you are…
  6. Exercising the muscles required to stand up for oneself is affirming even though you cannot change the past. Therefore…
  7. Success resides in the coming to terms with what happened, and in having resolved for yourself the most fitting means for dealing with it.

Positive results beyond that are gravy.

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