I was merrily strolling along the sidewalk in my lavender Crocs when the toe of my right shoe buffed against the cement and BAM! I was down on the sidewalk, blood oozing from my knee. What just happened?
Double that minor scraped knee. Now triple it and keep escalating it for the major tragedies we encounter in life. Consider current events such as the Texas, Colorado, and Georgia mass shootings. Or think back to your reaction when you saw the footage of the twin towers tumbling during the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. My first thought was, What just happened?
Once we piece things together, we often start the “If onlies. . . “ In our personal lives, maybe we know of a family who suffered a car accident or house fire or the devastating loss of a loved one. Maybe you’ve suffered one of these tragedies yourself. Our inclination is to think, “If only I hadn’t taken that route; if only I’d paid closer attention and prevented the tragedy; if only I had protected my loved one.” We want to redirect our world, which, like a raging tornado, has whirled off in an unwanted direction, leaving destruction behind.
Another frequent thought during personal tragedies is “Why me?” This question has come up several times during the pandemic. “I was vigilant about hand washing, social distancing, and wearing a mask, yet I still contracted Covid,” is a statement I’ve heard more than once. It’s followed by a shake of the head. Why me?
Author Rabbi Kushner answers that question in Why Bad Things Happen to Good People, a book meant to help sufferers find a faith that will get them through their dark times. Rabbi Kushner wrote the book after he was told the devastating news that his son Aaron had premature aging and would never see adulthood.
Rabbi Kushner believes God doesn’t cause suffering, and he doesn’t prevent it. We aren’t puppets for God to manipulate. Sometimes there aren’t reasons for the loss other than bad luck, such as being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His words make me think of a raging tornado that doesn’t veer around the “good people” in its path. It goes where it goes.
We’ll feel the pain and the sense of unfairness, and we’ll be angry, but it’s important to know where to direct it. Rabbi Kushner advises sufferers to take their anger out on the situation, what I’m calling “the tornado,” not on themselves, on other people, or on God. Being angry at ourselves only takes us spinning into oblivion. Showing anger to others only alienates us from those who could support us. And being angry at God prevents us from feeling comforted.
Rabbi Kushner would have us try to rise beyond the question: Why did it happen? and ask What do I do now that it has happened? Organizations such as MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the many gun control organizations that formed after Sandy Hook began when people directed their emotions to help prevent future disasters. Caring individuals form support groups, begin scholarships, and offer counseling to those who are facing what they experienced. We look to God and others for help to get through.
We need to reach out to one another in dark times and keep the faith. For there will be times, hopefully many more days, months, and years when we can clasp hands and rejoice together too.