A few weeks later, I was Whatsapping (a fancy new way of texting with a smartphone to people in any locale for free...it really is genius!) with the same friend who told me, "In a weird way, I'm glad all those horrible things happened. Now we're in Sydney, with jobs and meeting new people and having a blast." She and her twin now seem content to stay in Oz for a while and work the new jobs they landed whilst looking for Outback style adventure. I am pleased as punch for them, of course, but it got me thinking on a subject I think about quite often; the idea that "everything happens for a reason."
This idea is pervasive in our culture. With pithy quotes such as "Everything is okay in the end and if it's not okay then it's not the end" or "Everything works out for the best," thrown at us when we're in a dark place in our lives, we put our blind trust in the universe (or whatever you believe is in control of such things) and believe that simply by thinking things are going to work out in the end they will. Despite our hardships, we don't really ever believe that the worst case scenario will happen to us and many of us operate on the belief that after this period of suffering, we will emerge better people for it. It should be noted that the definition of suffering and pain differ from person to person.
In situation like my friend's, it's really easy to see that phrase at work. In that instance, a bad situation did a 360 and turned into something positive. And that happens a lot in everyone's lives. But what about those situations that never have a positive outcome? Does it mean we can't learn things from it and turn it into a positive? Absolutely not! But is that proof that everything worked out for the best? Are we always protected from the worst possible scenario?
In our First World culture bubble where we get caught up in an imaginary race with the Joneses (whoever they are), buying the flashiest clothes, finding our soulmate, the almighty dollar (After all as Kander and Ebb wisely say in Cabaret, "A mark, a yen, a buck or a pound is all that makes the world go 'round."), family obligations, vet appointments, kids' sports practice (the list is endless), we don't often stop to think the actually meaning we're conveying when we say "Everything happens for a reason."
Sure, if Suzy Q divorces her abusive husband and either finds herself or finds a man who's much more deserving of her, then for Suzy Q, everything did work out in the end.
But when we open up to scope of suffering beyond our mundane first world problems (although I'm not denying there isn't sometimes great suffering as a first worldian [making up words!]), there are a whole host of problems people we've never heard of, and may never meet, face everyday. These include, but are not limited to, rape, torture, war, disease, famine and genocide. Also, these trite sayings are sometimes said to try and alleviate pain in tragic first world situations such as miscarriages or getting screwed over by a former friend or partner (these are two examples I can think of in which others can attribute positive meaning to your internal suffering).
When someone dies, even a child, we often utter the cousin of these sayings which is, "They are no longer in pain" or "S/he is in now in a better place." Although those sayings give us something to say when we're at a loss for words, I will leave the latter two alone as I have no real proof that once someone dies that they are not in a better place and/or no longer suffering.
As the Holocaust is my main area of interest, I think about this notion of everything being alright in the end lot when I read memoirs, especially in regard to the denial many victims seem to be in until the very last moment (which may really be part of human nature and preservation of the self). This idea always reminds me of the scene in Schindler's List when the husband and wife are moving into The Ghetto and the wife tells her husband, "It could be worse."
For the people who suffered in the Holocaust (or any mass killing before or after), everything did not work out in the end. There was no "everything happened for a reason" and you cannot say "If it's not okay, then it's not the end," as many met their end without dignity, humiliated, painfully and in almost all cases, prematurely. Those who survived may have attributed meaning to their experiences, but in many cases had to continue their lives without their entire families or with a loss of several key members (such as losing a spouse and child, both parents, siblings or multiple children all at once).
I know some people attempt to explain the Holocaust by saying that it created Israel. That may be partially true, but how many people are now coming into my courses or approaching others who deal in the Holocaust telling us to forget about the Holocaust or trying to politicize and manipulate the memory of it due to the current political climate in Israel? Is the pressure to forget these millions of innocent lives worth their deaths because of the State of Israel? I also find this short-sighted as this dismisses the needless deaths of gypsies, homosexuals, the disabled, etc., whose demise have nothing to do with the founding of Israel. Alternately, these groups also having nothing to do with a "spiritual cleanse" of the Jews (as is one argument) and as many fell away from God after the Holocaust, can you say the Jewish people were actually cleansed?
|Really? Even people in Auschwitz like situations?
One other explanation I often hear about the Holocaust is that God gave people freewill and thus they are exercising it. However, I also have trouble with this theory. In the universe, there are only so many scenarios and things that are possible. For example, walking on air is not a possibility. Sure, there are ways to circumvent it, but in the rules of general physics, it isn't possible. Many other things are an impossibility, such as making imaginary friends or characters from a novel real people, resurrecting the dead or surviving on a diet of tinfoil (or light, as one woman recently tried, but gave up when she realized humans didn't photosynthesize). Those things just aren't an option, no matter how much you freely will it to happen. So then, why is genocide an option in the physics sense? Why is it possible for a human to kill another person? God could have easily made this an impossibility in order to prevent it from even occurring in the first place--then humans wouldn't even think about it and move on to doing their freewill act with something that is possible.
Is it simply human nature to try and ascribe meaning to otherwise meaningless events? Does everything need a meaning? Do all bad things, including genocide, need a redemptive ending or feature for us to feel better about living in a world where something so horrible is possible?
I'm not trying to diminish religion or say that people cannot or should not use religion as a way to deal with these questions. Although I lean more toward believing in a God that creates miracles and/or people and animals but does not really have a vested interest in their lives, I do respect anyone's right to a religion. This post was not intended to mock anyone's beliefs but simply inspire critical discussion and encourage thinking.
I'm also not trying to downplay the notion of turning negativity into positivity, which I think is actually very important if we're all going to get through life without being totally miserable. I do recognize in my own life horrible things that have happened that have helped me grow as a person, and I don't think it is impossible for humankind to grow as a result of genocide....it's just not something we seem to have been very good at so far.
One of those pithy quotes I do believe in--regardless of if the situation is as mundane as breaking up with a first love, all of those first world painful rites of passage such as losing a loved one to death/dealing with illness-- or as complex and potentially isolating as surviving rape or genocide, is this one:
And of course, these words from Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt's The Fantasticks, which seem to ring true in all situations (and give me chills):
"There is a curious paradox that no one can explain: who understands the secrets of the reaping of the grain? Who understands why spring is born out of winter's laboring pain, or why we all must die a bit before we grow again?"
What do you think?