Note: this post deals with a philosophy that many people hold very dear. I don't mean to offend anyone, I am simply explaining my own take on the randomness of life. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, so feel free to disagree.
I was tidying up my room the other day, letting my mind wander to things that I might do or might happen to me in the future when I can get out and do things, and I found myself slipping into what used to be a familiar image. You see, when I think about "destiny" or things that are "meant to be" in my life I always associate them with this image of two comets colliding in outer space (yeah, I'm weird like that). The idea is that the paths these two objects take lead to their inevitable collision, like a person and the path set out for them in life. The word "destiny" even popped into my head. And then I immediately stopped that line of thought.
You know this is bullshit, I said to myself.
"Everything happens for a reason" and "destiny" are lies that we tell ourselves to try to make sense out of a very confusing world, to help us when we are hurting emotionally or down on our luck. It makes us feel better to think that there was a reason these terrible things happened. The idea that life is random and that sometimes bad things just happen is scary. We prefer to think that there is some kind of grand plan, that God or The Universe or whatever deity or power you happen to believe in is looking out for you and plotting the course that your life will take. Even if this higher power doesn't influence every small action that each person takes, we like to think that the big things are planned out, destined, foreordained.
This is, quite frankly, a load of crap.
Let me illustrate my point with a few examples. A few years ago a mother and her two children were killed in the middle of the day by a drunk driver, leaving a grieving father behind. More recently a house burned down, killing three children. The mother had gone out with her sister to get a space heater because their heat had been turned off, leaving her seven children alone. According to the "destiny" theory those poor, innocent children were always marked for termination by the higher being. What possible reason could there be for that? What purpose does that serve? What about my friends - Tali, Steve, Sean, Chris, Ayanna - who died of cancer? Why did they get cancer? Why did they get cancers that killed them? Why did I have four friends relapse last year? What reason is there for the suffering, both physical and mental, that they, all of them, have had to endure time and time again? What about construction workers killed in work accidents, or a woman whose husband leaves her for his secretary after 30 years of marriage?
There is no reason. These things just happen, and they suck. There is no divine plan behind it. God is not poking His or Her finger in our lives, dictating who will be hit by a bus so that they can meet the love of their life in the hospital, or who will lose their job as a factory worker and later find fulfillment as a gardener. The events in our lives do not happen in order to bring about something better. They just happen.
I used to be a card-carrying member of the "everything happens for a reason" camp. Even when I got cancer I could find reasons why it had happened, that the path my life was taking post-cancer would eventually lead me to a better life than I would have had without cancer. It is true that I have met amazing people because of cancer and that I probably wouldn't have lived in France for two years had I never been sick, but I did not get cancer in order to meet them and end up in France for two years. Those are the ways I made lemonade out of lemons; they are results entirely of my own making. There is a scientific explanation for why I got cancer that involves random genetic mutations and the like, but no grand cosmic plan that required me to get cancer in order to lead me to my destiny. There is never a reason for suffering.
The only "reason" for any of the bad things that happen to us in life - illness, heartbreak, loss of a loved one, loss of a home - is the reason we give to it. We can try to make the best of a bad situation, as I did by making friends within the cancer community, and we can use these events to change ourselves and our lives. THAT is what gives meaning to tragedy, THAT is what gives a reason to these events. Rather than think that this bad event happened in order for you to find your destiny, go out and find it on your own! Don't just wallow and trust in fate to show you the way. Be proactive in making a reason for what has happened to you!
The best example of this philosophy are Sean's parents. Sean passed away a few years ago after battling cancer for seven years. I can't even imagine how painful it must be to lose a child. But his parents took their grief and turned it into good, setting up a foundation to research treatments for Ewing's Sarcoma. The foundation also sponsors many programs for teenagers and young adults at the hospital where he was treated.
I have resolved to live for the ones who are no longer here. There is nothing fair about the fact that they are dead and I am not. I am not better or nicer, I don't have more people who love me or who are praying for me. It could just as easily be me. So I try to live for them, too. If I have a difficult decision to make I often think of what they would do. The answer is almost always "go for it! Take every opportunity you can to be happy and experience life!" This may make me seem a little crazy to some, but I believe very strongly in this principle, for everyone. I also know that whatever I end up doing as a career it has to be something that directly helps others. I have been given a gift of a third chance at life, and I have to prove that I deserve it. I cannot waste my life doing something that has no impact on anyone; I feel obligated to work for others. That's part of the reason why I liked teaching so much. I could see every day that I was making a difference in the lives of those kids.
That is my reason. I try to help people and live life to the fullest so that they didn't die for nothing and to prove that I am worthy of the fact that I'm still here. Of course the fact that I'm still here is random, too. The good things are just as random and inexplicable as the bad.
I find the idea of a God who creates good destinies for some people and unhappy destinies for others to be wrong and nauseating. How horrible and unfair that would be! Especially when the destiny is not at all connected to the goodness or badness of the person (I think we can all agree the world would be a better place if Hitler had died of cancer at 22 instead of my friend Steve). Because I believe in a kind and caring God I have to reject this idea of "reasons" and "destiny."
The imagery of the two comets on a collision course is perhaps not entirely wrong. Perhaps my new paradigm should be two space ships, dodging comets and asteroids, constantly self-correcting, eventually colliding through their efforts to not crash into Pluto. Totally random, totally by chance, completely unforseen, occuring because of other decisions they made independently.
This is not meant to be a negative post. I'm just explaining a bit of my own philosophy and how I live with all the tragedies that constantly surround me. I'm looking forward to reading your comments.