Everything happens for a reason.
It’s one of those platitudes we all hear at some point. Usually well intentioned, sometimes a bit hollow, it’s often what people offer up when they don’t know what else to say. When they can’t make sense of something that happened, but want to provide comfort to the person suffering or questioning.
It was a sentiment offered to me this weekend after I learned that an ex was engaged. Via Facebook of course. Less than a year after our relationship ended, he is getting married to the girl who came before me, and apparently after me as well. Who was perhaps there all along. I’m not sure if there is a good way, or a good time, to hear this kind of news, but finding out through a friend’s newsfeed, out of the blue, while you are single and home on a Friday night tends to sting a bit.
Everything happens for a reason.
When I begged friends to tell me that it had been real, that I hadn’t imagined or concocted a relationship in my head…everything happens for a reason. When I asked them to explain how this could have happened seemingly so soon…everything happens for a reason. When I wondered why not me? Everything happens for reason.
Ok, that would explain it. Except I don’t believe that.
I don’t think him loving someone else happened for a reason any more than I think there is a reason that my grandmother died too young, or my grandfather didn’t. I don’t think there is a reason why some people get cancer, or that other people lose everything, or that babies die.
We get stuck sometimes, needing those reasons to exist, stuck in the “If this hadn’t happened, then that never would have.”
If you weren’t heartbroken because of the wrong guy, you never would have met the right guy.
If you hadn’t gotten cancer, you never would have started working out and eating kale and living a healthy life.
If you hadn’t lost your job and your house and your savings, you never would have realized that your true calling didn’t involve any of those things.
If your baby hadn’t died…actually I can’t even come up with a cliché for that one.
If not this first, then not that second.
I can see how the “then” may not have happened without the “this”. But it very well could have. The then didn’t cause the this. Sometimes A and B are not mutually exclusive, in that order. Sometimes you meet the right guy without getting your heart broken by the wrong one. Sometimes you find your calling without losing everything. Sometimes people die and it just sucks and there is nothing that comes after it that gives it meaning.
I was reading Dani Shapiro’s memoir Devotion today, questioning why we are so quick to repeat this phrase, to buy into this concept that everything happens for a reason, when I came across this passage:
“We look for reasons in retrospect. We tell ourselves stories. Every near miss has a narrative. Since the time of the cave dwellers we have attempted to take the random events of our existence and fashion them into something that makes sense…
I was certain that there was no reason. No reason at all. There was only this: luck, timing, consequences. Infinitesimal moments that added up and became personal tragedies, personal miracles.”
It’s how we make sense of what we don’t understand. It’s how we relate. It’s how we get through things. It’s how we connect to something larger.
Make sense of it. Relate. Get through it. Connect.
When I think of it, that’s exactly why I write. To make sense of things, to relate, to get through things. To connect. So often, the writing does all of those things. And still sometimes, I come up empty.
I will likely still look back and, in retrospect, try to find the reason for this situation. It’s what we do. Maybe I will find the “If this hadn’t happened, then [insert wonderful life changing thing here] wouldn’t have.” Maybe I’ll be able to tell myself a story that makes it all make sense.
But right now, there is no reason. There is no reason why I was part of someone else’s love story instead of my own. There is no reason why my heart got broken. There is no “if this, then that” lesson to be applied.
There is only this: luck, timing, consequences.
You can’t control all of the good things that happen to you any more than you can prevent many of the bad ones. What you can do, though, is live to appreciate all of the good moments. You can cherish all of the times when luck, timing and consequences work in your favor. You can seek to find good in the bad moments, while still knowing that sometimes there won’t be any. You can do your best to pull every piece of good out from the bad, and mold them all together like clay, until they form something that resembles good again.
As appears later in the same chapter from Devotion: “You make it mean something. That’s all you can do.”