I met a man tonight who was recently blinded. As in: a short while ago he could see, and now he cannot. Not surprisingly, he expressed a deep resentment, if not hatred, toward the very concept of god. “I am a good person who does all the right things,” he said. “I cannot abide by a god who would do this to me.”
It is my experience that when people find themselves in the midst of tragedy or misfortune, their reaction is, without fail, at some point a variation of Why me? It is also my experience (and opinion) that the process of working through the resulting anger one has toward god/the universe/fate almost always includes a variation of Why NOT me? But getting from those indignations to a state of (perhaps reluctant) acceptance is a hell of a ride.
For me — and what follows is, as everything I write, what works for me and what may or may not work for you — the biggest obstacle in overcoming Jack’s death was not that he was gone, nor was it the deep void his absence left in my heart. Instead, it was working through and past the idea that his death was a personal injustice, that it was unfair on a cosmic level, that it was something done to me, that I didn’t deserve that kind of pain and loss.
Probably all of those things are true on some level. Jack’s death was unfair and it hurt me deeply and I didn’t do anything that I’d think would result in that sort of punishment. But what I came to realize is that this is true not only for every person who lost someone they loved but also for any “bad” thing, large or small, that happens in anyone’s life. I wasn’t special in my loss. I wasn’t experiencing anything different than anyone else who has had something taken away undeservingly. My anger at god and the universe was an understandable and common reaction to unthinkable pain. It was not, however, related to any productive understanding I had about the role god plays in my life.
I’ve said for many years now that I believe in god with a lower-case “g” — a spirit of the universe that loves me unconditionally but not a being that is any greater than I am in stature or size. When I pray I can and do conceive of a god that is separate and irrelevant to the intellectual arguments I can make about how the idea of any sort of deity is illogical at best. I think of god not as someone who can — or even wants to — control what happens in my world but as though he/she is my father or mother, and that parental presence loves me with the same intensity and unconditional nature with which I love my own children. Which is such a big and incomprehensible kind of love that even thinking it exists in the world is mind-boggling. But when I pray I think that that sort of love is exactly mine for the accepting, if I choose to do so.
I couldn’t do that for a very long time after Jack died. For much longer than I probably should have, I stayed angry at god and refused to believe that any being or presence or ephemeral idea who (theoretically) loved me unconditionally could abide by the treatment life had given me. And, in fact, until I encountered the newly-blind man tonight, I’m not sure I’d realized that I stopped being angry at god a long time ago. It happened without me even noticing.
I did notice, though, that I had stopped feeling victimized by Jack’s death. I had stopped taking it personally and saying that no one understood. I had stopped wearing it like a badge of honor or a mark of defeat. Instead of asking Why me? I had slowly begun believing that there was no reason in particular and that there never would be and that even asking the question was an indication that I had absolutely zero understanding that less than 1% of all the things that happen in my life have anything to do with me or what I think I deserve.
I know — oh, do I know! — that it feels personal when tragic or even mildly upsetting things happen. Even if you’ve not had the love of your life die or been suddenly blinded, you know what it feels like to think the world is conspiring against you: when all the traffic won’t get out of your way or when you miss the bus or when you lock yourself out of your apartment or when your baby won’t stop crying and all you want to do is sleep.
I’m not saying it doesn’t feel personal. I know it does. What I’m saying is that feelings aren’t facts. That no one gets what they “deserve,” either good or bad. That the things happening in life are not part of anyone’s “plan” for you. (I think telling people who’ve suffered tremendous loss that it’s part of “god’s plan” is a cruelty like few others.) That life just happens, all around us and sometimes “to” us, and there’s really no way to manage that if you think it’s all an indication of a cosmic score sheet keeping track of who gets what and why.
Some very good (or at least blameless) people have experienced horrific things, and some very bad (or at least culpable) people have had carefree lives. But god doesn’t live in the space where the horrible and the marvelous get sorted out. Nope. God lives in the space where people help other people through hard times and share their experiences to let each other know that they’ll get to the other side of their troubles. God lives in the space of offering you the sort of unconditional love that you need to get through difficult times. God is a companion through tough experiences, not a magician who can prevent them from happening to begin with.
I know my conception of god goes against much of what is said about what and who he/she is or could or should be. I’m okay with that. Like I said before, I’m sharing what it’s been like for me. You can choose your own path and if it works for you, then that’s marvelous. I don’t have all of the answers for anyone, even myself. All I know is what’s happened in my life and how I’ve stopped being angry with god.
I hope the man I met tonight finds his way through the anger about his blindness. I hope he finds the same sort of peace and acceptance I have found about losing Jack. Because if there’s anything sadder than being angry at god myself, it’s witnessing that anger in someone else and knowing that it doesn’t have to be that way, but also that the only person who can figure out how is the person who’s experiencing it. In retrospect, I can see how what I saw as others not caring about the pain I was in was really everyone holding my hand while quietly waiting for me to figure it out myself. I hope the man tonight gets there someday, because it takes a lot of work to stay angry at someone who loves you so very, very much.