Recently, some friends have died or been hospitalized due to sudden illness. These things happen; we are mortal beings, after all. The details, and who my friends are, these aren’t important. That is to say, they aren’t important to this post. In fact, for this post, it’s best that they remain anonymous. I’ll let them be Everyman (or Everywoman, as it were). We are all mortal. And nearly everyone gets sick from time-to-time.
So here’s the thing. In all these instances, other friends, upon learning the news, have exclaimed to me, “but I just saw him/her!” as if seeing a person recently is somehow like touching base in a game of tag. Somehow that should make you “safe.” I just saw you yesterday, so you can’t get sick or die today! You just can’t! How is that possible?
Well, of course, it is possible. It happens all the time. We know it does. Yet people continue to exclaim, “I just saw that person!” Why? Well, I’m thinking it’s about anxiety. We don’t like the uncertainty – the randomness – that this reminds us of. We don’t like being reminded that any person at any time can suddenly be taken ill, or even die. We like to believe there are reasons for everything and that we’re completely in control. But we’re not.
When my son died nine years ago, we were at a family gathering. Most of the family was there, and we were having a good time. In a second, everything changed. We couldn’t have predicted that – not really. People who were uncomfortable with this tried to give me platitudes. God doesn’t make mistakes. God needed another flower for his garden. It’s all part of God’s plan. No. Sorry. I can’t respect a God who planned for my son to get killed in an accident in front of most of my family. That God would be cruel and tiny.
This was a random event. There was no reason. It happened. It was terrible. I can, however, worship a God who weeps with me. I can love a God who holds me and my family in our sorrow and grief. I can trust a God who lets me know that even though this wasn’t supposed to happen, God will hold my son in God’s arms.
There are things that we can do to improve our odds a bit. But wearing seat belts and bike helmets, not smoking, exercising, and eating a healthful diet won’t guarantee that nothing bad will happen, it just stacks the deck a bit. I mean, the odds are heavily in the casino’s favor, but people still win sometimes.
This not liking the randomness of things, it’s not new. In the book of Job, we are told that Job is blameless. He’s beyond good. He loves God, and he does everything right. So the Accuser (God’s agent on earth, the one who goes around essentially doing God’s legal prosecutorial work on earth, HaSatan, The Accuser (who later became Satan, the Devil)), insists that it’s just because Job has all he wants, and makes a wager with God. God allows The Accuser to do anything he wants to Job except to kill him, and HaSatan kills all of Job’s children, and his wife, and takes all his wealth away from him, and gives him a skin condition. Job ends up picking his scabs sitting on a dung heap.
His comforters come to see him, and they can’t handle it for long. At first, they just sit with him. Wall, that’s great, that’s a good way to be with people. But then they can’t keep their mouths shut, and they start telling Job that he must have done something wrong to deserve all this punishment. Why do they do this? They do it because they don’t want to believe that the same thing could happen to them. But it could. It could.
In real life, there is no base. We see people one day. They’re gone the next. Or they have casts on their arms or legs. Or their cars are totaled.
Now, I’m not saying that because things can happen at any moment we should all live our lives in fear. No – that would be like having no life at all! I am saying that maybe we could learn to live with the uncertainly a little better. Why me? Why not. Who should it be? My father always said that.
Keep wearing seat belts. And bike helmets. It makes sense. but also remember that few things are truly certain. So how does that affect your outlook? Does that make every day precious? Does that make all the time with friends and family special?
Maybe if we keep these things in mind, the next time we find out someone is suddenly ill or has died, instead of saying, “But I just saw her!” We’ll be able to say, “I’m so glad I was just able to see him.”
I pray you all are well. That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.