The Boston Marathon bombing happened. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary happened. A dozen other horrors like these have happened in my lifetime – Okalahoma City, 9/11, two wars in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and one in Vietnam, plane crashes, natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Japan and Thailand. There are dozens of stories on the local news each week talking of murder, accidents, and the death that courts each of us daily.
No matter the tragedy or the time or stage of my life when it happens, I default to the basic human question of why. Why did this have to happen? Why did those innocent little children have to die? And who are the sick bastards that perpetrate these heinous acts and why?
I was recently asked to speak on the meaning of life – why is it I’m here? I kept it light as I always do and hit the high points of my mortal existence; to experience joy, love, sorrow, and overcome countless obstacles in the pursuit of cosmic perfection.
Post-speech, however, I felt bad, like I’d swindled people out of an honest answer to the question. I copped out and pled the fifth, stating that at the end of the day, I didn’t really know why I was here – why any of us are here. The truth is, I do know, and by sharing my thoughts on the subject, hopefully you’ll find some morsel of meaning for yourself and perhaps a bit of comfort in the face of yet another National tragedy.
The question of our existence isn’t a new one. Humans are hard-wired to find reason and meaning in just about everything. “Why” is probably the most universal question we ask. My five-year old daughter plays the “why” game with me all the time.
“Why are we going to the doctor?”
“Because your ear is bleeding,” I say
“Why is my ear bleeding?” she asks
“I don’t know. That’s what the doctor will hopefully tell us.”
“Why will the doctor be able to tell us?”
“Because he has special instruments that can see in your ear.”
“Why don’t you have special instruments?”
You see the pattern and I’m sure you’ve played this maddening game with the little people in your life a time or two.
Well in case you haven’t noticed, the phenomenon doesn’t end in adolescence, adulthood, or old age. The only things that change throughout our lives are the questions. Teenagers ask why they aren’t popular. Young adults ask why they didn’t get the job. Middle-aged adults ask why their spouse isn’t happy anymore. Old folks might ask why they don’t get to see their grandkids as much as they’d like. I want to know why my dad had to die at age 54. Why does my daughter have to be robbed of the opportunity to know him the way we did? Why has my book not yet sold a million copies? Why, why, why? And if we’re not asking why, we’re asking, “what does it all mean?” What am I supposed to learn from this? How am I supposed to react?
The “why” question is important. It’s maddening during times of stress yet mandatory for human progress. Our need to understand how and why things work has allowed us to invent and innovate. Understanding human motivation sets precedent for societal order and offers behavioral predictability. If we can collectively understand why a sick asshole decides to walk in and shoot up a school one day out of the blue, maybe we can address the root issue and prevent others from committing the same act. A rash of teen suicides stemming from bullying in schools mean that we can make bullying a priority and hopefully keep kids from taking their own lives.
The messed up part is that kids, however many, had to die in order for the issue to be noticed, at least as part of the national conversation.
So what about me? What about my questions? What is my role in all of this madness? Is it to simply participate as a member of the race and do my little part toward the crafting of a better widget? Contribute to human progress by punching in and paying the bills? I can’t answer for the rest of my fellow human beings, but after years of thoughtful contemplation on the subject, I’ve drawn a conclusion that offers me peace instead of madness when I inevitably ask why.
My logic is predicated upon the basic principal that I believe I come from a creator – God, higher power, etc. Whatever the name, I know in my heart that I come from somewhere. I believe that a divine spark of my creator lives inside of me and that spark is my connection back to our source. It’s what gives me the inherent knowledge between right and wrong. It’s what makes me feel bad when I hurt someone’s feelings and happy to help and old lady carry her groceries. It’s the essence of my soul or chi or energy center. It’s why people are drawn to me when it shines and repelled when I’m disconnected from it.
I believe that our universe, world, and lives are all part of a divine plan. The energy and elements of this plan are in constant motion and existence happens in some form or another for eternity. I accept that in my current state of being I have limitations. I accept that there are things I’ll not understand in this lifetime. I also believe that those things I can’t yet understand will be understood when I continue my existence at the end of this one.
I believe these things because I choose to believe them. I, along with every other human on the planet, have been given free will. I get to choose what I want to believe and given the choice to believe in God or believe in nothing, I choose God. In doing so, I trust that my life is moving along a divine path that was designed just for me. I’m learning the lessons I need to learn. I’m participating in teaching others (sometimes unknowingly) as they travel their path. I evolve and move forward toward my next stage of existence, much like graduating high school and moving on to college. This trust that I’m moving exactly the way I should is called faith. Faith is knowing not hoping.
Practical application of this belief system has allowed me to endure in the face of tragedy and more often than not, discover tragedy’s underlying beauty.
If each of us is a thread in the cosmic tapestry, woven beautifully along the path that was designed for us, then we become an integral part of the whole. Along the path, we intersect and run in parallel to thousands of other threads who are woven along their path. Our hue of green set against their section of grey form a necessary shadow in this glorious cosmic work of art.
It means that my dad learned what he needed to learn and contributed what he needed to contribute. His early departure at age 54 is part of my learning and his void in my daughter’s life is part of her path to greater spiritual growth. It’s human to mourn and lament the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or the loss of a pet. It’s divine to discover the beauty of that loss and what is gained and what grows as the result of it.
Dr. Wayne Dyer, a man in tune with all things divine, spoke to a group of people some years back about the triumph of the human spirit and when asked about coping with loss and the “why” of it all, he referenced his friend and spiritualist, Ram Daas.
A couple, Steve and Anita, had suffered the loss of their young daughter, Rachel and were grieving deeply as any parent who loses a child would. When they asked why God would take her from them, Ram Daas composed the following letter:
“Dear Steve and Anita,
Rachel finished her work on earth, and left the stage in a manner that
leaves those of us left behind with a cry of agony in our hearts, as the
fragile thread of our faith is dealt with so violently. Is anyone strong
enough to stay conscious through such teaching as you are receiving?
Probably very few. And even they would only have a whisper of equanimity and
peace amidst the screaming trumpets of their rage, grief, horror and
I can't assuage your pain with any words, nor should I. For your pain is
Rachel's legacy to you. Not that she or I would inflict such pain by choice,
but there it is. And it must burn its purifying way to completion. For
something in you dies when you bear the unbearable, and it is only in that
dark night of the soul that you are prepared to see as God sees, and to love
as God loves.
Now is the time to let your grief find expression. No false strength.
Now is the time to sit quietly and speak to Rachel, and thank her for being
with you these few years, and encourage her to go on with whatever her work
is, knowing that you will grow in compassion and wisdom from this experience.
In my heart, I know that you and she will meet again and again, and
recognize the many ways in which you have known each other. And when you
meet you will know, in a flash, what now it is not given to you to know: Why
this had to be the way it was.
Our rational minds can never understand what has happened, but our hearts
– if we can keep them open to God – will find their own intuitive way.
Rachel came through you to do her work on earth, which includes her manner of
death. Now her soul is free, and the love that you can share with her is
invulnerable to the winds of changing time and space. In that deep love,
In the wake of a tragedy like Sandy Hook and the Boston Marathon when I invariably ask why, I look to my faith and trust that all of those who perished did so of their divine will in an effort to better the whole of our race. I read the letter from Ram Daas to Anita and Steve and remind myself that the answers will come, but until they do, I carry on. I weep for the grieving families and pray that they find whatever small comfort they can in the idea that, as horrific as their loss may seem, it’s for a purpose and it’s not forever.
So why am I here again? I’m here to experience life and walk the path that’s been drawn for me. I’m here to love, laugh, inspire, overcome, teach, and learn. And as long as I look inward to that spark of the divine that dwells within, I have faith that my existence has purpose and meaning.
I no longer need to ask why. Now I ask how. How can I better serve, love, inspire, and even entertain. I wish each of you a divine life devoid of “whys” and filled with “hows.”