I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. Maybe the adage is a comfort to some, knee deep in a shit whirlwind of their own making, but I’m not sure it has any sort of honest application beyond that. To believe that everything happens for a reason — everything — one has to accept that some pretty awful things can (and often do) happen to some pretty wonderful people, in order for us to have one of those Oprah-ish a-Ha! moments later on. I don’t accept that.
Of course, sometimes things happen to us as a direct result of our own actions, the good and bad with their respective benefits and consequences. Sometimes things happen to us because of the actions of others, too, completely out of our control. And sometimes things, well, they just happen.
When our friend Michele was still alive, especially in the last year of her life, we talked a lot about addiction, recovery, and the meaning of it all. We would often try to convince her (or maybe, ourselves) that if she was still alive after everything she’d done and everything she’d been through — a list that was quite impressive in the way that blockbuster horror stories can sometimes be — there must be a reason. God must have a plan, we’d say, something bigger in store for her. It was meant as encouragement, I guess, but it was the sort of encouragement that was tinged with no small amount of guilt. How can you be stupid and die now, kiddo, when God has a plan?
After she died, I thought a lot about those conversations and wondered if she ever really believed any part of them. Was she thumbing her nose at this notion of The Plan or did she, once again, know something that I am only now accepting?
I don’t think her death was some predestined event that happened “for a reason.” I think she died because early in life, some pretty horrific cards were stacked against her, cards that were later drowned in decades of bad decisions, love and loss, addiction and disease, unbelievably close calls, and no small amount of grace. In the absence of a cosmic reason, then, we’re left to find and assign meaning. Meaning is different, I think, because it requires work on our part. It requires healing.
Since Michele’s death, I’ve come to understand my wife’s own struggle with addiction better than I might have otherwise. (Coincidentally, I also fear it more.) I find that I’m more open about the subject with others, too, because I know that shame is one of its deadliest weapons. I hope I’m more appreciative of the select few I let close to my heart, because I know all too well that the future isn’t guaranteed. I’ve also developed special ties to a couple old friends, brought together again by shared grief and love, that I wouldn’t have imagined prior.
Let’s be clear, though. None of those things are reasons. Our friend didn’t die so that I could achieve some paltry self-improvement list. Those things have happened to me because, as grief turns to healing, I am tasked with finding some semblance of meaning in the unthinkable heartbreak.
She would have been 36 today and yet, I am the one finding my way toward a gift. That’s just like her.