By Jean Skeels
I am a growing and constantly changing person. We all are.
It’s natural and necessary that as we grow and mature, as life unfolds in and around us and we experience more of our life, that we change. We might see things one way for a time and then perhaps we outgrow various thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, and philosophies; or we don’t.
Maybe it is other people who are changing around us, but things are constantly shifting whether we embrace it or not. We are allowed to let things go, to shed old skin. We are allowed to change our minds, to change course, to leave anything that no longer fits behind.
“Everything happens for a reason,” is one of those well-intentioned platitudes that gets passed around and used as a canned response.
It’s often an attempt to comfort or console—as if it were a piece of spiritually grounded wisdom and a fundamental truth. I must confess, there was a time when I believed in it, embraced it, and said it to myself and others.
I no longer believe in, “everything happens for a reason.” I do believe that everything happens.
Up until the events of 9/11, my experience with tragedy and suffering had been personal and had in fact turned out okay in the end. I endured emotional and physical abuse, bullying, substance abuse and its related traumas, and near long-term incarceration. But, I came through it and established a stable life: college educated, married, a mother of two (at that time) healthy children. It was easy to look at my own life and say it all worked out for the better and served some purpose or reason without acknowledging luck, lacking awareness of privilege, and looking through a limited and warped lens about suffering and circumstance.
The events of 9/11 put a critical crack into my delusion of a world where war and devastation happen in distant lands, as nothing more than stories someone tells on the 5 o’clock news. They didn’t seem to have substance, they weren’t my world, not fully real. As I watched replay after replay of buildings on fire, people leaping from them, their final horrifying collapse, this ideal in me began to crumble. I resisted its fall. I wanted to cling to its comfort and shelter.
I felt compelled to look and question even as I wanted to avert my gaze and stay in the oasis of denial.
I wrestled with it for a period of extended existential crisis. I went back and forth, in and out. It is hard to wake up from deep programming and the propaganda that seeps in from everywhere in this culture, but those images would not go away. Once something is seen it can’t be unseen or unknown. Illusion is stripped away and once it is, it’s gone—there is no going back.
We are continuously programmed and fed propaganda, now more than ever.
We are bombarded with advertisements, media stories, tweets, memes, inspiration porn, slogans, experts, educators and a plethora of gurus du’jour, all selling us their view, their way, their solution, and telling us who and/or what is the enemy, what is harmful versus what will save us. What one is peddling as the venom, another is insisting is the antidote. There are people who benefit from convincing us that they know better, that they have the vision and solutions, they’ll save us from all that ails us and from our very selves.
We are inundated by all this toxic disinformation and led away from trust in our ourselves and our direct experiences. We are led to doubt our intuition, our full spectrum of feeling, our inclination to question the authority of others and invest in our capacity to think, evaluate, and discern.
When we do not trust ourselves we are easy to program and easy to control, manipulate, and capitalize on.
After 9/11, I became increasingly aware of and sensitive to global suffering, death, destruction, war, violence all around and everywhere in my city, my neighborhood and in myself. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, genocide in Darfur, school children killed abroad and at home, Sandy Hook, living abroad and seeing that distant suffering up close. The poverty, homelessness, disease, a dear friend dying at 44 of brain cancer, another friend’s son dying of a heroin overdose, friends who reveal abuse and rape they have hidden in shame. So many violations, so much suffering, loss, pain, the urgent and overwhelming want and need to grieve.
Anything that can happen, does.
“Everything happens for a reason” is said as an attempt to comfort, and perhaps for some people it does that, but it lacks substance and essentially—even if it were true—it doesn’t matter. Not really. Once something happens, especially the things that break our hearts, cause deep grief, rage, or despair, the reasons why are not something to hold onto. They do not hold us up; they are an unstable support, an empty consolation at best, another wound or trauma to carry at worst.
Everything happens for a reason is an escape hatch.
It allows us to feel like we have lent support to someone in their time of need, but really we have bypassed having to go to the feelings, to be in the pain, to suffer alongside another. Everything happens for a reason does not engage in the critically vital and hard work of being fully present in the moment and all that demands of us as humans.
It tries to clean things up and put them away before what is needed has even begun—the messy and uncomfortable realm of our pain. It diminishes the depth of the other person’s experience in order to make the uncontrollable nature of life seem back in control.
It subtly places a kind of blame on the person who is suffering. If these tragedies happen to other people for a reason it implies that they in some way deserve it and alleviates the truth that this could happen to anyone, even me.
Everything happens for a reason steals our suffering; it robs us of the hurt that our broken hearts require. It mutes rightful anger and rage. It snuffs out critical parts of our humanity. It stifles our holy tears, our sacred wails, our songs of lamentation. It aims to flatten the landscape of living and neutralize the complex terrain of experience. It numbs and distracts. It kills the opportunity for the deepest most honest connection, at the very time when we need it most.
Once something has happened what we really need is solid ground—to be held, to be seen, to be witnessed and affirmed. We need the right amount of closeness and space that we decide and determine. We need people around us, in the way we need them, not the way they might think is best. We need those people to offer and ask, “Can I sit with you? Do you want to talk? Can I do this for you?” or be there in the space and silence for as long as that is what needs to be honored.
Once something happens we need to be allowed all the time, all expression that rises to the surface and back again, to feel what comes, unapologetically, freely and fully.
Perhaps this sounds dangerous—an invitation for an unraveling or a descent into harm. That’s possible, especially in a culture that has kept us from fully processing our experiences, and insists that we clean up quick by stuffing anything uncomfortable down wherever it can go. We become pressurized and explosive. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can make the space for our emotions and full range of feelings, and not just some tepid acceptance but a full and long embrace.
This work needs community. It calls us home to our collective humanity, the deep wisdom we carry, where we belong to and need each other. We need each other not for the turn of a phrase but for the journey of a lifetime.
When we move past small talk with our neighbors and friends, when we engage with our families, and we listen, and ask, and listen even more, welcoming the discomfort, the pain, the grief, equally to the joy, the contentment, and the comfortable condition of happiness, then we are in full human connection.
When we stay in the mess of it all with each other, especially when there is no way to fix the reality of what is being experienced, we then create realms of expansion and transformation together and for one another. We evolve together not in isolation.
Finding community can be a challenge for many—myself included. Places of true belonging in which the relationships and communities welcome full spectrum humanity are certainly scarce. We can and must begin building such ways of relating, under our own roofs, or with one friend over coffee, in our schools, meditation groups, in our online worlds, wherever we may find ourselves in relation, we create the conditions and then invite others in.
Anything that can happen, does.
Everything happens and will continue to happen.
Beautiful things, terrible things, birthing things, dying things, peaceful things, violent things. We are here to experience, feel, hold, process, and engage with all of this. We are here to witness and hold each other as everything happens for no reason other than to carry each other in the direction of love.
Jean Skeels is a full time mother, writer, yoga teacher, photographer, and end of life doula living just outside of Baltimore Maryland. She writes a blog called Magnificent Messand has been published previously by Entropy Magazine, Elephant Journal, and Rebelle Society. She can be found on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/jean.
skeels and Instagram @jmskeels
Editor: John Lee Pendall
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