My friend, who is herself a doctor, writes, "Sigh. Life (and death) always seems a bit unfair. Does religion take the edge off this? I don't know."
These are really hard questions, and lie, I suspect, at the root of what brings people to religion and faith as well as at the root of what drives them away. And I don't have any answers. But I thought I'd share a bit of what I wrote back, because ... well... that's where my head is today.
* * *As I used to say to my kids ALL the time — who ever said life was fair? ... which doesn’t stop ANY of us from railing at the unfairness of it all. And who ever said life (at least, life as we know it) didn’t inevitably end in death? We all know it does, but we rage against it anyway — no matter WHEN it happens, although we tend to be more accepting if people get 80 or 90 years before it happens.
Of course, there’s always the chance of a miracle, but miracles rarely take the form we expect. Sigh. And I’m not sure religion offers any answers — at least, not the religion I have now, at this point in my life. When I was younger, maybe, and believed in a God who controlled according to my specifications. Now I see it more as solace, hope, a hand to hold, a light to follow when things get really dark, a sense that we are never totally alone and abandoned... But not a “fixer.”
Some things just get to be broken — in the long run we all get to be broken — and somehow those of us who still have some sort of hardscrabble faith learn to trust that someday somewhere something good comes out of what we do or how we live or how we handle the brokenness.
I keep thinking of the mothers I know who have lost their children. The one who lost her 12-year-old to cancer facilitates fundraising for Children’s Hospital and runs a quilt and hat-making enterprise for young cancer patients on the side. The one who lost her son to suicide at 16 is active in a national teen-suicide-prevention enterprise. The one who lost her son to Lyme Disease at 20 completely renovated her home and turned it into a relatively toxin-free hospice space for people to live in while they are receiving treatment for Lyme Disease, cancer and other treatments that weaken the immune system. Does any of this activity make up for those losses? No, of course not. But the gift they bring to others who are struggling is a way of honoring what has been lost... and hopefully makes life easier for those who come along later.
It’s probably not our job to say what’s just or fair; we never know the whole story as God knows it. We may, like this dog, have illusions that we're sitting in the driver's seat. But we're really not in control; we can only watch where life takes us, long for the driver who seems at times to have abandoned us, and continue in the meantime to do our part to bring our own gifts into the world; doing our best to leave it a little better than we found it.
But just as no one said it would be fair, no one said it would be easy, either. It just is what it is. And as my brassy new york sister-in-law used to say, “so live with it, already!”
Sorry to be so preachy. It must be Sunday morning!
PS: (A note to readers who have attempted to comment here without success) I've changed the comment interface, hoping to get around the blocks for you. Could you try again and see if it works for you? Try commenting as anonymous if all else fails...)