I have a friend who says that she sometimes feels as though she has an invisible target on her head that only God and the angels can see. She imagines them having a bit of fun raining trials and tribulations down on her head to see how she will respond. She’s a determined person, and so she somehow manages to survive and even win the game time and again, but she admits that she often grows weary and wishes that the fates would choose someone else for the bad luck that really does appear to befall her again and again and again. Some people really do seem to be snake bit and no amount of platitudes can make them feel better about the barrage of tragedy that befalls them.
We all know somebody who appears to have to endure one horrific event after another, usually through no fault of their own. My friend is like that. She no sooner navigates her way through one crisis than another one happens. She leads a good life and makes wise choices, but the only lottery that she wins is the one that leaves her in a new pickle. She’s lived with a life threatening disease for years that has prevented her from working which of course means that her income is distressingly low. She has made the best of her situation asking for little of material value and enjoying small pleasures. It would be nice if she were to get a reward or even a bit of respite from time to time, but she has little luck in that regard. Sometimes I want to cry for her, but know that she is not someone to be pitied, but rather admired for her spirit and determination. I’ve learned a great deal about how to keep on trucking from her. She’s a Survivor with a capital S and would be a great team member to take on a difficult journey as long as one doesn’t mind the crazy situations that seem to follow her.
There is seemingly a kind of randomness to life’s lottery and over time most of us experience the full spectrum of happiness and sadness. We become ill, have accidents, fail at some things, grow old, watch loved ones die, but also find love and friendship, travel, enjoy the world around us. Such things are part and parcel of living, but what do we say to comfort someone whose hardships seem endless? How do we help a person who does everything right but still gets battered, especially when we also see those who seem almost immune to misfortune, those with a supposedly golden touch?
I’ve been watching the CNN special on the Kennedys. It would be easy to believe that they are somehow cursed or at the very least terribly unlucky. The reality lies more in their sheer numbers of family members and the fact that they have been generally willing to take risks in order to live life to its fullest. Still their tragedies must have been almost unbearable. Sadly the matriarch of the clan, Rose, often believed that they were retribution for sins that she or her children had committed. How awful it must have felt for her to wonder why she was continually being punished when she was obviously a good woman. Sometimes we attribute reprisals to God when we should instead just understand that life is a series of random events combined with the choices that we make. The dice that we cast are not loaded, even when they just keep coming up with the wrong numbers. To believe that misfortune is actually some form of karma would be to judge those who have pain filled lives as somehow deserving of their fates. Surely we know that this is not so.
We humans have a tendency to avoid sadness. We live as though we expect the world to be like Disneyland. We want to stay away from situations or conversations that are difficult. We shy away from people who are experiencing tragedy which only makes them feel even more isolated and hopeless. We are continually running away from troubles, wanting to solve problems with quick and easy fixes so that we might get back to having fun.
I often think of my outgoing mother whose home was a center of activity until her bipolar disorder made her frightening to former acquaintances who began leaving her in droves. There were actually people who verbalized their distaste for being around her because her illness unnerved them. They were unwilling to submit themselves to a bit of discomfort out of kindness to someone who had once been a great friend to them. Her situation made her a kind of pariah to all but those who loved her without conditions, which was little more than a handful.
We are attracted to joy, success, good fortune. We naturally gravitate to people who are doing well. As soon as someone opens his/her heart to reveal uncomfortable truths we so often look away in fear and find excuses for steering clear of them.
There are many discussions these days about teaching our children to notice and embrace those who have been sidelined by little more than the luck of the draw. We adults are suggesting that youngsters find the downtrodden among them and consciously work to include such souls in the daily interactions of social life. We would not have to so consciously engineer such things if we were modeling those kinds of behaviors in our own lives. If our kids saw us regularly embracing people who are lonely or suffering they would take it for granted that this is the way to live. Because we all too often ignore or even avoid depressing situations, we teach our young to fear such things.
Saying prayers for someone in need is always nice, but we have to do more for those who are enduring misfortune. Sometimes it takes is a willingness to listen to them complain, for surely what they are experiencing is very very hard. We may or may not have solutions, but we can provide them with the understanding that they need. We can help them by not allowing them to feel alone or different because of whatever fight is demanding their attention. We can show them that they are loved and that someone cares about what happens to them.
We get busy and make excuses and soon realize that we have forgotten the lonely, the sick, the depressed people who are overwhelmed by events that have stolen their joy. It’s time that we hear their cries no matter how silent they may seem to be. Reach out today. There is someone who is waiting for a sign that things are going to get better.