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.

Facebook Valentine

Dear Reader, my sincere apologies for such a lengthy gap between posts. I so appreciate your attention to my musings, and I have missed you sorely. Contact me at elgantz @ yahoo.com if I can help you with social media, marketing, or communications.

On Friday, January 8, 2010 I received a Valentine’s Day card from my Mother. She has always been quite enamored with all things mail—postal, that is, so I am never surprised when her cards arrive in multiples and even early, but this was significantly early, even for her. I remember a palpable queasiness in the pit of my stomach, but then, I had felt vaguely uncomfortable about my stubbornly aging parents for weeks. Then, late in the afternoon on Friday, January 29, I received a call at work that my Mother was in the ICU at Parkland. She had been rushed there after a devastating stroke.

I think my heart broke that day.

This was the beginning of an agonizing journey, including my father’s concurrent debilitating health emergency and affliction in February. I will refrain from the intricate detail, but I can tell you that pondering and writing about the theoretical vicissitudes of social media and well—just about anything—became somewhat daunting when dealing with all-consuming family health crises, especially when they came in duplicate, simultaneously—and when the relationships involved had been historically complicated in the best of times. I have been forced to recalculate, reconfigure, re-evaluate, and re-prioritize—everything. And pray most of the time.

Then, consider all of this in the context of an abrupt job “separation.” It’s just one more wave in what a friend has called my “Life Tsunami.”

OK, Universe, you have my attention! Now what?

Still, as a single mother of teenage boys, I have become quite adept at riding the “survival roller coaster” for the last ten years. Yet even Monsieur Maslow, guru of all things needy, would posit that I have many blessings to count amongst the mayhem—and you better believe I am grasping for every possible nugget of gratitude as I navigate the debris sprinkled across these choppy seas.

Fundamentally, I am enormously grateful for reconnection with my sister, Melissa, as we pilot the blind turns, brick walls, and back alleys of the frustrating health care labyrinth. My boys have shown considerable compassion and maturity inside the ominous hallways of ICUs and rehabs—and my friends and church family have provided me with exceptional support. But, one of my most surprising and cherished blessings has been social media—specifically, Facebook. I’m not talking about ROI or conversions or leads. I’m talking about the kind of value for which there is no metric, no Google analytic.

In those darkest moments of loneliness and fear, reading the sincere, heartfelt messages of my friends, near and far, recent and from years ago, on Facebook has been a true gift from God. The arrival timing of some of these messages has been nothing short of Divine.

This sounds somehow saccharin—even to me, but this precious prose has served a miraculous refuge of comfort and warmth for me—when nothing else in my rattled world has seemed steady or solid. The magic even came in the form of timely medical advice from Ann, a Northwestern pal I had not spoken with for years, who had actually worked with stroke rehabilitation patients. Amazing! So, in honor of those special souls in my life . . . here’s my true inspiration. I share a sampling of some of my favorite Valentines—even though it’s March:

From Stephen:
The point is that we do not know why these things happen, and it seems like at ‘our age’ things should be easier. I am sure I am not the only one who knows and is encouraged by the fact that you will come through things wonderful, wiser, stronger, and maybe happier. Thoughts and prayers are with you.”

From Kim:
“Everyone of us is called upon, probably many times to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job; and onward full tilt we go, pitched and wrecked and absurdly resolute— driven in spite of everything to make good on a new shore. To be hopeful, to embrace one possibility after another— that is surely the basic instinct—crying out, ‘High Tide! Time to move out into the glorious debris. Time to take this life for what it is.’ ” — Barbara Kingsolver

From Joe:
Prayers ascending, Elaine. May God’s abiding presence bring you strength, courage, wisdom, and peace to face this onslaught of challenge.

From Laura:
You are a gift to me, and I love you very much!

From Carol:
“Holding you and your family in The Light.”

And from Amy . . . just hours before everything changed professionally:
“We can’t take all our fortitude and will and force the outcomes we want. But we can open our hearts and time to letting God be right in the middle of everything for us. Daddy and I just said goodbye to his Mom. We didn’t find God in the worrying about what to do for Granny next; we found God in the small stuff, like brushing her hair, and in supporting each others’ choices and process of holding on while letting go. Whatever you face, I trust you will face it with the openness and authenticity I see in your eyes when I look at your pictures. And you will never face it alone.

With deepest gratitude! Share your mystical experiences . . .I would love to hear . . .

Connecting in Isolation

Montreat, North Carolina

I just returned from four days in a miraculous place— Montreat, North Carolina. The peaceful, picturesque village sits nestled in a perfectly pristine pocket that exemplifies some of God’s finest handiwork. Though the temperature hovered near the single digits, the still, stately Black mountains seemed to envelope the eleven of us like a lush, tonal blanket—sprinkled with glistening stars of ice in the day and shimmering droplets of light in the deep, velvet night.

The event featured many fascinating people, presentations, and workshops—intertwined with personal introspection and self-discovery. It is what many have deemed a “thin place”—a location on earth where the veil separating the spiritual realm and the material world is slightly more diaphanous—perhaps, even permeable at times.

This is a place where hearts hunger and souls search.
It is a place where the emotional epiphanies are as significant at the intellectual insights—where relationships with acquaintances deepen and the murkiness of life’s choices becomes profoundly clear.

But this serene setting was only part of the magic. The Rev Brian Blount, President of Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, a commanding, compassionate presence, proclaimed during the first night’s session, “You are those God has called” to help nurture and guide our youth. And much like Dorothy, who travels to the exotic Emerald City in search of what is missing in her life, I found the most potent wisdom right there among the very people who accompanied me to this remarkable destination. Silly and seasoned; sassy and sweet; sardonic and soothing—these special spirits shared rich truths and many a poignant moment.

I was humbled and honored to be in this eclectic First Presbyterian Church entourage.

Erika Funk, Youth Initiative Minister of Broad Street Church in Philadelphia, spoke about the lack of empathy she sees in so many of our youth. Is the pseudo interaction of texting and IMing developing a false sense of intimacy—impairing our ability to measure, assess, and manage interpersonal communication effectively? Fundamentally, are we losing the ability to truly “be” with people? It’s a disturbing notion. She is concerned that our young people may be stepping back and away from those in need. “I see a fear of the homeless,” she says. She suspects this may be the consequence of this under-developed empathy and increasing personal isolation. It’s as if our powers of observation and understanding are evaporating.

“There are just fewer and fewer instructions for being human,” Funk laments.

That resonated with me. The paradox is chilling. Is our humanity really waning as we mindlessly create more and more ways to connect? ‘Tis a question worth pondering—in many realms of life—especially since turning back the hands of time is not really a viable option. If this “erzatz engagement” is the new reality, perhaps it is time to revise our expectations of interaction. Or, is it? What does it mean to the way we approach and frame our communication—now and in the future?

What are your thoughts? What do you think about the behavior changes media drives?

Peas in a Pod

ElaineGantzWright’s blog is for people interested in using the Web and online marketing to drive social change. Elaine covers social media for nonprofits, philanthropy trends, online giving, cause marketing, random life musings, and more.