Sh*t happens

Sunday Blog 40 – 12th June 2022

“I don’t believe things happen for a reason, I just believe life is actually the randomness we see around us.”

Maya Shankar, Episode 17. Riz Ahmed Plays Himself, at the 17:25 minute mark

It’s been a week of rich listening on various podcasts, including a favourite, A Little Bit Culty which I am saving for next week’s blog.

This week belongs to the excellent A Slight Change of Plans. Not one but two Slight Change of Plan episodes I randomly listened to, tackled the popular idea that “everything happens for a reason.” These were episode 17 – Riz Ahmed Plays Himself, and Episode 32 – A Test of Faith featuring Kate Bowler whose life is upended by a Stage IV cancer diagnosis at age 35 with a 1-year-old son.

These two thoughtful episodes dig into the idea that the belief “everything happens for a reason” means that when bad things happen, it lets loose the dogs of victim blaming. There must be something you did or didn’t do that caused this bad thing to happen to you. Life is not random, but completely ordered. It strips away our empathy and fellow-feeling.

Kate Bowler describes how her terminal diagnosis made her aware of the precariousness of life, and this realisation “opened up in me a capacity to love other people and their precarity.” (23 minute mark)

In short, if we give up the certainty that life is ordered, and that when things happen “there is a reason,” we are able to embrace the complexity and randomness of life, and see each other as we all really are – not special, not immune, all just as likely or unlikely to have bad things happen.

In a New York Times article Kate Bowler wrote in 2016, just months after her diagnosis, she recounts the neighbour who came to drop off a meal and tell Kate’s husband that “everything happens for a reason.” She was very startled by him asking what that reason might be.

“She wanted some kind of order behind this chaos. Because the opposite of #blessed is leaving a husband and a toddler behind, and people can’t quite let themselves say it: “Wow. That’s awful.” There has to be a reason, because without one we are left as helpless and possibly as unlucky as everyone else.”

Certainty or love. Not really a choice, is it? Love wins!

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