Everyone I know is going through something difficult right now. The last throes of grad school. Multiple miscarriages. Assault. Extreme friction with an ex-partner/current co-parent. Workplace harassment. The death of a loved one. Car accidents. Robbery. Struggles with addiction. Broken bones. Infidelity and divorce. A damn toothache. Just in case you forgot for a second – life is hard ya’ll.
If you haven’t heard of the book When Bad Things Happen to Good People, I don’t know where you have been because this sweet little book has been around for 35 years. Yes, it’s true, very fittingly it came out the year I was born. And people have been recommending that I read it for almost that long so yeah it’s pretty much my destiny. It always sounded like such a fun read, I just never got around to it. Kidding. It sounded fucking terrible and why would I ever want to pick that up and dwell on the bad things?
Well, a time I’m trying hard to be grateful for has arrived and I can now say I have finally scratched that book off my list. Go me! And, not surprisingly, it turns out to be as full of helpful thoughts as I would hope a longtime 4+ million copy bestseller should be. Wise words on why people victim blame? Yes please. Bad things seeming to make a bigger impact after periods of feeling like life was getting “put together?” Makes sense. Shifting your vision to realize life is all randomness and chaos and not one single person can walk a path that will prevent all bad things from happening to them their entire lives? Amen. Even Einstein tried his best to disprove the quantum physics of things happening at random?! Now we are talking. We all want to calm and align things. Make them smooth enough to have a happy, peaceful life 100% of the time. But forget it, that is too tall an order.
So guess what? The only guarantees are that both more bad stuff and more good stuff are going to happen to us. Yay! Not in equal quantities though so don’t get too excited that life is going to go and get fair or something. I guess the point is to get comfortable with that and at least poof be gone with the shock that goes along with something bad happening. Because senselessly bad things don’t happen to good people. They senselessly happen to everyone. No way out of that one through good deeds. Like the author says, the rules are “NO EXCEPTIONS FOR NICE PEOPLE.” Move along please! I mean, if some people were so damn nice that they were somehow then immune to bad things happening then they could jump out of windows and airplanes and marriages and anything else with no consequences. I’m pretty sure if some people had immunity like that the Earth would just have to tilt off its orbit and die. So, time to get good at the art of suffering.
We get to be here, to arrive here, (usually) because there is truly so much good in the world. It’s a miracle gamble that each of us is here at all. But that good really does kind of serve us up for the bad. It makes the bad things an option at all. The only time something bad can’t happen to you is if you don’t exist. We get lucky sometimes and dodge some bullets. But that means we are still here for the next bullets coming our way. And staying here in between bullets means we amass more goodness in the interim, raising the stakes, increases our investment in faith in humanity, and makes the next bullets feel that much more painful. Wash, rinse, repeat. A blessing? In fucking disguise sometimes.
It’s ok to be angry at the situation. People are afraid of anger and will want to hush you up. Don’t listen, let it out. We then try to give the bad things meaning to make us feel better and our pain feel productive. But there is no inherent meaning in them. Thinking bad things are somehow our fault is to think too highly of ourselves. No one has that much magical power. Sometimes we get mad at ourselves when bad things happen and we punish ourselves. People have a deep belief that if some “higher power” did something to a person, well he must have deserved it so why should anyone treat that person better than god/the universe/etc did? Things can really snowball from there.
I like this book. I get it and I feel it deeply. I think it’s a must-read for hard times. But I still think that some things just plain should not happen. To anyone. Period. And I remain troubled in getting around that. I’m not being negative, I’m not standing in my own way. I’m just in it and I’m going to be in it until I’m not. I’m sorry each time I find that is uncomfortable for anyone else. It sure as hell is uncomfortable for me. There is no way out but through.