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Everything Happens (For A Reason?)
No thank you, I'll pass!
When I think about my relationship to fate and/or predestined everything, I think a lot about this:
I also think about Bill Paxton yelling at Helen Hunt in Twister (“Jo, things go wrong! You can’t explain it, you can’t predict it! You’ve got to move on!”), but the only image I could find of that exchange looks like it was made by a third-party and none of the font matches, and I will NOT subject y’all to that shit.
Don Draper is both wrong and right in his sentiment, according to me, a person who over-analyzes Mad Men too much: there is indeed a big lie, and there are many systems, all of which are designed to keep a very specific sect of the population on top. But the universe? That, I think he has on lock. The more life I live and the more events we’ve all gone through, the less I see the universe as an entity working actively for or against us, and more as something far too booked and busy to look down and keep score.
Am I conflating God and the universe? Maybe! I grew up Catholic, am happily lapsed (to put it lightly), and my relationship to spirituality and religion can best be summed up by declaring it none of my business right now. I have no idea what awaits us when we die, and I can’t explain the unexplainable. The universe is vast and it scares me, and I’m certainly not brave enough to go poking around in places where I don’t belong. I believe in something, in some way, but I’m not even sure what that means, and the idea’s honestly too big for me to sift through. Energy? Yes! (That’s powerful, man!) Living a life where you try to make people’s lives better and (hopefully) not act like a major dick? Absolutely! Freedom to practice your religion as long as everybody’s having a nice time, and nobody’s getting hurt? Of course! Ghosts and spirits? BABY, YOU KNOW IT. But the universe? As something that decides our fates for us and sets up our lives like a line of dominoes? That’s not for me, and I'm fine with that.
“Everything happens for a reason” is something we’ve all said at some point, and then inevitably wish we could take back after something real happens where any reason seems hardly worth the pain/trauma/upset. “Everything happens for a reason” is something you say to a person who missed the bus, but got on the second bus and met the love of their life there. “Everything happens for a reason” is not what you say when somebody’s life blows up and you’re trying to assure them that it won’t stay shitty forever.
Here is something I hold close to my heart: nothing stays shitty forever. It can’t! Forever is a very long time, and way too long for my tiny brain to slightly fathom. But things can stay shitty for a while, and that’s the way life works. And that’s okay: feeling shitty and things being shitty is normal. Sometimes terrible things happen, and there’s nothing we can say or do to make the pain of those things make sense. Sometimes terrible things never make sense. Everything happens, just not usually for a reason. Something happens, and then we’re left to figure out what we do with it. Sometimes, we’re Helen Hunt, and sometimes we’re Bill Paxton.
When my Dad died, a lot of people didn’t know what to say. One woman we hadn’t talked to in years showed up to our house three days after and said to my mom, “What a way to go!” (as if him dying from sudden cardiac arrest alone in the choir loft during mass and my mom finding him afterwards was a testament to their faith) (reader, absolutely not). Countless others began their sentiments with, “Well, at least…” which, like, please no. Some reminded me that I was fated to have moved back home during the pandemic so I could spend extra time with my Dad, and while that’s certainly true (aka I did move home, and we did spend a lot of time together), I doubt the pandemic was structured around me and my Dad getting to know each other as grown-ass adults and becoming friends. (Because tell that to the millions of people who’ve gotten sick, lost loved ones, had their incomes depleted, etc. etc. etc. And by “please tell” I mean “do not, can you even imagine.”)
But honestly, I can’t blame them. Death and any type of tragedy/trauma/heartbreak/massive life event that throws a grenade into your normal is terrifying because it suggests that you — the observer — might be greeted with that type of grenade next. And who wants to invite that type of chaos? Who wants to accept that sometimes fucked-up shit happens, and the only thing we can do is stand around, wide-eyed and in shock, thinking, “What the fuck?” Not a soul. Instead, we want to suggest that maybe, just maybe, there’s a silver lining. A lesson to be learned. Something better that will follow because my God, something has to. We say “everything happens for a reason,” I think, because the alternative is too frightening. What if there isn’t a reason? What if that fucking thing happened because it just did, and now here we are? How isolating is that? How horrifying? There has to be something bigger at play — something hidden in the footnotes that will give us a chance to draw a line from point A to point B, and soothe ourselves with the belief that we’ve figured out how the universe works. So . . . we point to the reason. And it doesn’t really help.
What has helped me is the comfort in knowing that I don’t know. I have no idea what lurks beyond the veil, and that’s enough for me. Another thing? Knowing that whatever happens, good or bad, we get to make choices. We get to decide how we’ll process and react and change and what we need, and what we don’t need, and whether we want to be alone or with friends or with family or with a therapist or with our pets. When bad things happen (and good too, but we’re talking sad shit here), we get to react in the way we need to in that moment. We get to embark on our own chain of events, ending TBD. I’m convinced that the only wrong way to grieve or process or endure is to do it at the expense of another person, and even then, sometimes that will happen and you have the choice to apologize and talk about it, or the choice to double-down and see where that goes. (Which, as someone who’s done both, I will say it’s easier to come back and say, “I am so sorry.”) Ultimately, we get to decide if something happened for a reason, or if it happened and now here we are. I know we want to make the people we love feel better, but sometimes part of recovering from whatever they’ve gone through is accepting that they’re on their own clock, and a mantra dismissing a catalyst as “fate” will not dull their ache.
Over the course of my life, I’ve learned that all I really need or want is acknowledgement. I don’t need somebody to wax poetic about what it all means, or comfort me by saying “at least it was quick” or “at least you got to say goodbye” or whatever people say when they want you to feel better about something bad. Sometimes I want you to make inappropriate jokes with me. Other times, I may want to have a conversation about how my idea of the future’s changed. Even if something happened for a reason, I don’t necessarily care to know what that reason is. When your universe combusts, under any circumstances, I can’t imagine finding comfort in learning that something went down just so you could decide you wanted to go back to school or so you could meet some guy. (Honestly, if I found out that a tragedy occurred so I could meet some guy I would hate that guy. Who the fuck are you, pal? What the shit?) Everything happens, often without rhyme or reason. But that’s something we all have in common: we’ve all gone through hard things, our histories are rife with trauma, and we all know that in the immediacy of those events, we spin out of control, albeit sometimes only internally. Life-shattering moments come for us all, whether or not there’s an abstract explanation.
And I don’t mean any of this to be a buzzkill — quite the opposite, I swear. It was only after a year-and-a-bit did I find comfort in the chaos of my own circumstances. I learned that it was enough for me to throw my hands in the air and say, “I have no idea” and then try to forge a life that made me happy. At some point, I stopped searching for a bigger reason or the plot points of a larger narrative, and I accepted that whether we’re talking death or injury or any life-upending situation, these things happen, and you do what you can to stay afloat. I think that’s what we’re all doing, actually, and that’s a great thing. Maybe the universe is a sentient being who maps out our fates and positions us accordingly. Maybe we’re just a babes on a big rock in space. Who knows? I’m just some broad on her laptop, typing while her cat side-eyes her accordingly. I know nothing! And that’s exactly enough. Which is quite a big topic to conquer on a Friday, but that’s the beauty of making a choice. (Although if you’re the universe and you’re reading this, please choose to share this post with your friends. I would very much like Pluto to feel less isolated.)
Housekeeping! A few very kind souls pledged actual dollars when subscribing to this newsletter, which I absolutely can’t believe but am certainly grateful for. So a reminder —> you can pledge if you want, but please think of it as a tip jar. AKA this newsletter will always be free, but should you think, “Eh — here you go!” I’ll gratefully accept and write you a thank-you card which I’ll send in the mail. (Because mail rules.) (And maybe, like, other cards sometimes? I don’t know, do we really want to get into mail here? . . . I think I do, actually. I fucking love mail.)
So that’s it for this week! Talk soon, yay Friday, and this morning I ate leftover pizza for breakfast. (It was sensational.)