Confession: I Don’t Think Everything Happens For A Reason

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.”



11 thoughts on “Confession: I Don’t Think Everything Happens For A Reason

  1. I spent my entire life thinking like you and suffering because of the things that happened, AND suffering because I couldn’t find a reason. Lately I have accepted that we might never find the reason (even if it exists) and it is much more comforting, it helps you heal, it’s part of “letting go” and “non-attachment”. And we have to live with that, life is a mysterious thing! A few days ago I found that the last guy I loved (not like there were tons anyway), and who told me “it is not the good moment to be together but our story isn’t over” , just got a new girlfriend. And I also found out on FB. It really sucks, and I could ask a thousand questions, but with or without a reason, he is not with me anymore and it is a fact that he’s with someone else. And I will be quicker moving on than stopping to ask the reasons, if there is one out there in the Universe well so be it! Not saying it’s easy, just saying if you’re aware that there’s no answer available to you for everything then you might be able to make peace with it sooner. Chin up! 🙂

  2. I have sometimes found myself feeling like you do. There are reasons I cannot come up with no matter how hard I try. Even if there they are there we would rather not have them like why Blaise has PWS or Ronan had Tay Sachs or my dear friend Tiffany’s son was killed a year ago in a car accident at age 20 leaving her completely alone and heartbroken. There can never be reasons for those things. Yet I see little things all the time that do happen because that happened. Makes no sense sometimes. I like to think it is because I have an angel who watches over me and knows when to step in. I feel that pain you are feeling right now and I know I have been there
    In my life. I think we have to question and wonder why as the hurt manages to creep in even when it was not invited. The one thing I know in retrospect you can get stronger from these things happening and that does allow the door to open for good things to enter though never feels like it at the time. So know this sweetie. I love you:)

  3. Something about this piece really resonated with me. It’s taken me a bit to process but I think I’ve finally sorted it out in my head. I don’t believe that there is only one path in our life, that if one thing didn’t happen others wouldn’t have followed…“if this, then that”. But I do think there is growth in everything that happens…if we choose it. Would we learn those lessons anyway…grief, forgiveness, acceptance, unconditional love…probably. Those moments just happen to be the way they arrive in our lives. For no other reason than “that’s life”

  4. I’ve started to change my mantra to “Things will fall into place”….It gives me control over the things I can change, and also leaves me hopeful that things I can not change will all end up okay. I’m sad that you were disappointed and upset by the news of your ex! And while I don’t think situation a will directly lead you to situation b, when you do find someone you deeply love, you can look back on this ex of yours and be glad you didn’t end up with him 😉 Things will fall into place. XO

  5. Oy sorry you recently received that news. Never fun!! I go back and forth on the whole “do things happen for a reason” thing. I mostly believe they do. But that is totally dependent on how good things are going in my life. ha

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