Everything Happens for a Reason?

Elliot Everett Wright

People say it all the time. Everything happens for a reason.

It’s supposed to be comforting and deep. It implies there is some sort of grand scheme – a kind of cosmic chessboard where all the moves, winners and losers have been predetermined in some grand design. We just don’t understand or see the big picture. Whether you believe in God, Source, or a big, black hole of nothingness, this concept is difficult to digest.

And, these days, I have little patience for vague platitudes.

A year and a half ago, my precious first-born son, Elliot Everett Wright, died in a tragic, single-vehicle motorcycle accident. He was ejected off his shiny new Honda bike over the side of an elevated highway ramp, soaring 40 feet into the azure Texas sky. Elliot died on the operating table at the same Dallas hospital where he took his first breath at 5:17 p.m. on May 17, 1992. He told me he took every precaution – the fanciest Japanese helmet, safety-paneled jacket and thick, heavy boots. Except, there was always that inherent risk of riding the damn bike – a paradox that’s so difficult to rationalize.

My anguish deepens with each passing day.

What complicates my journey is the weight of accumulated losses and traumas over the past few years – my father’s death in 2014, after years of a rare form of epilepsy he kept secret, dissension regarding his care and eventual dementia; the death of my mother in 2012, after a debilitating two-year post-stroke struggle; the death of my cherished mentor and friend of 30 years last year; the intentional absence of my sister and only sibling after Elliot’s death, and the pain of a prolonged toxic relationship that I finally ended. I am a divorced mother of two brilliantly complicated boys, Elliot and Ian, and this worst-of-all-losses has throttled me.

So, when I recently saw Bill Maher opining about the cloying cliche – “everything happens for a reason” on his often-irreverent HBO show, something clicked. Granted, Bill Maher and a spiritual a-ha hardly seem compatible, but that’s why it caught my attention. He was interviewing Neil deGrasse Tyson, a crisp, witty scientific raconteur and author I enjoy watching ponder the mysteries of the universe.

Fresh from an uncharacteristic social media firestorm, he acknowledged contritely that he commented impulsively in response to one of our latest horrifying mass shooting incidents. He tweeted something glib about people dying in other ways every day. Perhaps, that faux pas did happen for a reason – to wake us up from our desensitized trance and complacent stupor around the senseless loss of human life in the name of gun ownership.

As they chatted about politics, truth and the universe, Bill declared, “One thing I hear all the time is that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ Now, that’s an absurd statement.” He went on to say it’s perpetuated by the entitled elite who revel in giving supernatural meaning to the happy accidents in their privileged lives. He observed that for those who struggle in abject poverty and pain, things don’t happen for a reason. They just happen, and they are mostly about struggle. It’s easier to recognize mystical signs of abundance when you have already reached the pinnacle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Neil echoed his chagrin adding, “’Everything happens for a reason’ – is so not true. Everything is random in the universe. We create the reasons.”

Yes, I found this refreshing. A cosmic scientist was confirming what I now know down to the marrow. Horrible, unfathomable, devastating things happen. They just do. The unthinkable can occur, and it does – with swashbuckling arrogance. It’s a grim, raw reality that has drastically changed the way I view the world, life – and death. Jaded, maybe, but real.

Mindfulness practice teaches us that healing starts with the radical acceptance of what is. Thus, accepting randomness is part of that, right? And, it offers me a whisper of peace. Nothing makes sense, really. We all mourn losses, including the raging wildfires in Australia, an airplane shot down by Iran, and the random destruction wrought by ten violent tornadoes just blocks from my home in Dallas.

There is no reason.

That might be the most spiritual notion of all. These things simply are. They are part of being human. Yet, something about the death of a truly remarkable child and all his promise seismically shifts your psychic interface with life itself. When I hear “everything happens for a reason” now, it’s excruciating and hurts with the intensity of a frigid, subzero slap in the face. In fact, I feel like an alien in my own life when I encounter a well-meaning co-worker or neighbor reprise this “for-a-reason” banality or the ever-popular, “Heaven got another angel.” That does not help.

Though we strive to accept the tragedy and randomness of things, it’s still painful. There is no instant emotional anesthetic in the accepting. I guess that’s what Neil recognized on some level when he openly acknowledged that his insensitive comment made a negative emotional impact. He said:

Yes, it was true, but emotions do matter . . . People are bereaved. Facts are facts, but emotions are real, too. I should have taken some time before I typed that tweet. I should have taken a breath . . .

And, there it is – a perfect example of retrospective mindfulness. Self-aware and empathetic reflection. Here’s the lesson – let’s be more present with each other, more intentionally compassionate. And, more present in our grief. Yes, it’s awkward and uncomfortable, but that’s where the treasure is. In the end, that might be the only possible reason – for anything. The grace of vulnerability.

Maybe, things don’t happen for a reason, but, maybe, grace does.

Amid grief’s messy miasma, those tiny fragments of presence are what save us. Grace is in them – in the startling moment of compassion or the gentle word from another broken heart who carries the weight of a similar loss. Grace is in the unexpected care package that arrives from a sorority sister I have not seen in 30 years. It’s in the chance introduction to an angel boss whose compassion and wisdom make it possible for me to function at all. And, grace is in the generous soul of a dear friend I have known since first grade who makes a special trip across the country to sit with me on the first anniversary of Elliot’s death.

Grace. It’s those poignant, profound gestures and occasional synchronicities – often obscured by the heavy darkness that’s my new normal. I think this is all that matters in the end. I have to believe in the benevolence of universe – and God at work somehow. That’s the only way I can put one foot in from of the other . . . one day, one moment at a time – perchance to experience that next fleeting glimpse of grace.

Until tomorrow – and then, again.

Healing Trumps Trauma

“Nothing ever goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” ― Pema Chodron

Appalled. I guess that word describes my current state. I keep trying to come to terms with the abhorrent behavior of our 45th president. Though I work daily to find a place of personal peace, the fear still creeps in. I know all is in “Divine Order,” but I am struggling to discern what kind of order that might be.  What could be the silver lining here? What is the gift in this, as great spiritual teachers might ask?

Well, I have a theory, and I guess I’ll go with it, because it’s really the only way I can contextualize the escalating chaos. I had a light-bulb moment when I saw Jeffrey Lord, a conservative pundit on CNN, attempting to defend 45’s alarming “Morning Joe” Twitter rant. Lord resolutely proclaimed, “You can’t call the president crazy.” Wow!  I had to put down my phone. That one sentence summed it up.

  1. Why can’t you?

There’s something distressingly potent in Lord’s protest. Why can’t you question a disturbing, unhealthy pattern of behavior that could endanger the lives of others ― in the leader of the free world? Lord’s claim shines a light on a pervasive mentality that strengthens the stigma of mental illness in the U.S.  Admittedly, this is not easy terrain to navigate, but mental illness is not a weakness. It is not an insult or a bad choice. It’s a disease ― a disease of the brain.  If you have a stroke, like President Eisenhower suffered in 1957, someone hopefully says, “Hey, something is not right with you. Are you OK? Let’s get some medical attention.” But with mental health issues, it’s much murkier. There is so much shame and embarrassment involved; we don’t speak up. We don’t get involved. The condition may not be as immediately life-threatening as a stroke, but it can certainly result in tragic consequences ― especially if you are president of the United States.

  1. “Crazy” perpetuates stigma.

On another level, I was shocked Lord said “crazy.” It seems to be the media catchall for all aberrant or irrational behavior, and its derogatory connotation helps propagate stigma and patient isolation, too. We are so uncomfortable talking about diseases of the brain that our default is “crazy” or now ― “cra-cra.” This language leaves no room for dignity, recovery or healing. And the shame prevents many from pursuing treatment (if their insurance will even cover it, that is) ― whether they are diagnosed or silently contemplating suicide. In a world where “the overall suicide rate rose by 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics . . . and the suicide rate for middle-aged women, ages 45 to 64, jumped by 63 percent over the same period,”  we cannot continue to humiliate or ignore those who exhibit signs of mental illness.

  1. An inside job.

And finally, there is the reality to face that if we elected a man suffering from mental illness, he is our mirror. It is time to take responsibility for healing our own inner wounds. It’s time to choose authenticity, conscious communication, mindfulness and healthy boundaries.   

But Trump’s coterie of codependent enablers (flying monkeys) is not helping matters. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s tweets, saying he “fights fire with fire.” And Homeland Security Advisor Thomas Bossert minimized the threat of violence associated with the president’s hostile CNN-assault tweet ― actually saying he was “proud of the president” for creating a social media platform that connects with the people.

The 25th amendment offers some guidelines, but the act of defining “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” instantly becomes political and complicated in the realm of behavior.  In addition, the psychiatric profession is still hamstrung by the 1973 Goldwater Rule ― enacted after Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP nominee in the 1964 election, was declared psychologically unfit for the presidency by psychiatrists surveyed in Fact magazine.  Goldwater won a defamation suit against Fact, and the resulting rule still prevents psychiatrists from voicing a caveat publicly without conducting an examination. Unfortunately, this further perpetuates stigma, as well― muffling open discussion of mental illness concerns under a cloak of disgrace.  There is probably a middle ground we can explore somehow.

So perhaps, from a quantum perspective, Trump is here to open our eyes (that have been “wide shut”). Maybe it’s time to end the silence, as the National Alliance on Mental Illness  (NAMI) is trying to do in our schools nationwide ― freeing our voices to tackle taboos that keep mental illness under the radar and under-treated. We are only as sick as our secrets, as they say, and questioning the mental health of the president in a constructive, supportive way might help lift the veil.

I am not sure of the answer, but at least we can start asking the questions about the very real behavioral concerns of this unconsciously virulent and externally triggered man leading our nation. It’s about his health ― and ours.

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From NAMI: If there is NOT AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER but someone is acting irrationally due to his/her mental state, contact your local mobile crisis team. In the Dallas area, individuals may contact ADAPT Mobile Crisis at 1 (866) 260-8000.  If someone is acting irrationally due to their mental state and there IS AN IMMEDIATE THREAT OF DANGER to themselves or someone else, call 911. 

Communicating Consciously. Living Contently.

IMG_20151012_102228As we wrap up another year and set our sights on the possibilities and opportunities of 2016, I’m taking stock. Once again, I find myself looking back on this online chronicle.  I love reviewing all those posts sorting out the early days of optimizing social media for nonprofits and small businesses, as well as the personal reflections and epiphanies that seemed to sustain me through the enormous challenges of past the six or seven years.

 

Today, this quote from Caroline Myss is resonating for me:

“Just let go.  Let go of how you thought your life should be, and embrace the life that is trying to work its way into your consciousness.”

This awareness is informing all of my choices, my writing, my work, my relationships ― and a new, intentional acceptance of me.  What is my core content? Who am I, really? And what am I all about in the world? These may seem like lofty questions for a mid-century mom, but the wheels are turning! And this I know ― the answers to such questions must come from my own heart, truth and spirit― and not some external source or futile effort to remedy the tornadic trauma of an emotionally toxic relationship. They need to be authentic, peaceful, and healing for me and my boys―even as they pursue their own lives.

As Sherry Turkle says in her book, Alone Together, “We are all too busy communicating to really connect.” And this week’s startling statistics on teen media usage make this observation even more salient. “On any given day, teens in the United States spend about nine hours using media for their enjoyment,” says the report from Common Sense Media.  Seems to me that media is becoming more than a mode of communication. It is now a way of being.

That means we must actively, deliberately train our brains to be mindful in each and every moment ― in every relationship interaction.

For me, these are the questions: Am I conscious? Am I present? What am I feeling right now? Am I making a decision that is healthy and self-nurturing?

Life coach Martha Beck says, “Little miracles begin happening to you whenever you turn toward your right life – even if it’s in the middle of the muck and mire. Small miracles turn into big ones.”

We just need to pay attention.

So, are you communicating consciously?