Warning: adult language ahead!
I don’t believe that things happen for a reason.
This is a notion that suggests we are all fated, that our lives are mapped out in advance.
To me, life to me feels much more improvisational, a create-as-you-go.
Yet when something bad happens and people say, “Things happen for a reason,” I understand the sentiment. To me, it means this:
When bad things happen, they aren’t always what they seem to be. Life is change. And every event in life is an opportunity for growth.
Instead of saying “things happen for a reason,” it’s more powerful to say: What story are we telling? And is that story serving us?
For example, my 15-year marriage ended when I discovered my spouse had an affair. Yes, I was devastated. To tell me “things happen for a reason” at that point would have sunk me in into deeper pit of pain.
Yet, eventually, I was ready to shift my story. Instead of focusing on how I was betrayed and devastated, I began to see that out of the pain, I had a chance to re-create my life. If I remained stuck on the “I was screwed over story,” I wouldn’t have been able to tell the “I am transforming” story.
Because eventually I let go of the betrayal story, I was able to get honest with myself about the flaws in our relationship. I saw it really did need to end. And sometimes things have to end in dramatic ways or they won’t end at all.
The story became: “I’m one fucking tough cookie!” And, “Breaking open was good for me. It helped me to become more compassionate—and to see new possibilities for life.” And, “When someone wants to go, let them go. It saves a lot of grief—and life moves forward. Dropping the old makes way for the new.”
A few years ago, out of the blue, I had a seizure—then found out I had a brain tumor. I could tell the story that bad shit happens randomly—and that life is frightening. It’s not that I wasn’t ever scared. But the more I told a different story, the better I felt. And I’m sure it helped me heal. The story was, “The body is resilient. I am a healing machine.” And “something good is going to come out of this.” And “No matter what happens—even if it’s my time to leave this planet—all is well.”
When my father died, I held him as he took his last breath. Soon after, my mother developed dementia and died a slow death.
I could have focused on this story: Life is brutal and horrible. Life sucks.
Not that I denied that life can feel that way sometime. But if that was the only story I told, I wouldn’t have been able to experience another part of the story: that of appreciation and love.
I focused on how much time I was able to share with my parents, and that I was with my father at a sacred time, the time he left this world—just like he was here when I entered it.
I saw how my mother, in the midst of her illness, softened. She enjoyed being held and massaged and hugged in ways she didn’t when she had her “full mind.” We had a chance to develop a different kind of relationship—a much more loving one.
I told the story of how grateful I am for all the caregivers in the world who do such great work, for the medical providers, the hospice workers, the availability of morphine, of love and community.
We aren’t alone.
I reminded myself that we are all mortal. We all have our time to go. There is nothing wrong with dying.
As Ram Dass said:
“Dying is the safest thing you’ll ever do. It’s like taking off a too-tight shoe.”
It’s not that life happens for a reason—it’s that life happens, and we have a choice: we can either live in fear and become bitter, or live in appreciation and grow.
Author: Kate Evans
Image: Jenavieve at Flickr
Editor: Renée Picard