Thursday, January 6, 2011

Bad Things Happen

It's been 29 years.

I just put the pieces together a bit better this morning.   The trigger?  A conversation with my high school daughter after I returned from attending a Vigil for my friend, D's, father.

I came home from the Vigil unsteady and stumbling, literally.  For over 12 years, I have witnessed my friend, D, rise to meet each obstacle that life has presented her.  These past 3 months, D has faced more than most will encounter in a life time.    From nearby and a distance, I have gleaned D's story not only from her, but from her mom and dad.   And now, the man, her dad, who repeatedly encouraged D to continue standing unexpectedly transitioned from life on Earth.   I think he left way too early.   Yet, who am I to judge?   And, I try to understand  - yet again - why bad things happen to good people.

It's been 29 years.

I offer thanks to Rabbi Harold Kushner for his timely writing of the classic book When Bad Things Happen to Good People.   Just before Christmas this year, I stumbled upon an old copy in the St. Vincent dePaul Thrift Store on Beach Boulevard.   I began re-reading it over the holidays.

Over 20 years ago, this book initiated my slow return to God.   Rabbi Kushner's writing helped me begin to understand my anger as well as sort through one of life's hardest questions - "Why do bad things happen to good people?   Why do we suffer if God is supposed to be goodness and love?"   In one of his arguments, the Rabbi clarifies "the laws of nature."  

Insurance companies refer to earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters as "acts of God."  I consider that a case of using God's name in vain.   I don't believe that an earthquake that kills thousands of innocent victims without reason is an act of God.   It is an act of nature.  Nature is morally blind, without values.   It churns along, following its own laws, not caring who or what gets in the way.    But God is not morally blind.   I could not worship Him if I thought He was.  God stands for justice, for fairness, for compassion.   For me, the earthquake is not an "act of God."   The act of God is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquake, and the rush of others to help them in whatever way they can.     (bold emphasis, mine)

Yes, that's what I believe.  I am remembering so much this morning.  My lovely daughter, Ava, was also the catalyst.   After arriving home last night, I crawled into bed and asked her to come talk with me.   I told her I missed her.   Ava's high school days are long, and she's not home much.   She then spoke to me of adolescent things - peer pressure, social cliques, fitting in, and friends.  I listened.

And this  morning, I pulled a college text book from my shelf.   It's THE book that broke me down my senior year at Syracuse.   I remember sobbing in my professor's office telling him that the book was clearly stating everything I had believed to be true, and I just couldn't continue reading it.   The information was direct and raw.   I did finish The Birth and Death of Meaning by Ernest Becker and have re-read it several times - though not in at least 15 years.   Today, I will begin re-reading it again.

I just found the passage I was looking for that Ava's sharing had helped me remember.

Only during one period in our lives do we normally break down the barriers of separateness, and that is during the time that the psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan called the "pre-adolescent chumship."   It is then that we are striving hardest to establish this integral domain of our inner identity, and our chum helps us.   Remember that time?   Sitting around on the curbstone and communicating so directly in what you are thinking and feeling, hoping and dreaming.   And you understand everything you communicate about your mutual insides.   It is uncanny.   Unhappily, the years pass and one goes into the late teens and into the career world.   The "outer" or public aspect of our lives takes over:  we begin to deal in exteriors, in shirts and ties and calling cards, in salaries and ranks.   One of the reasons that youth and their elders don't understand one another is that they live in "different worlds": the youth are striving to deal with one another in terms of their insides, the elders have long since lost the magic of chumship.

It's been 29 years.

Brenda LaVigna was my chum.   We met in middle school, and our time together was intense, hilarious, and magical.   I've not had a relationship like it since.  In 1982, my senior year of high school, 2 weeks before Christmas, she died in a car accident.

Deep sobs now, 29 years later - for my loss and all of our losses that come from living and our desire to connect with one another - and our desire to connect with something far greater than us.

I spent many years in the dark.   My back coldly turned away from God.   So much of my Yoga studies are concentrated on the ideas of not-separate (non-dual) and connection.   Decades of searching led me home.   I am a practicing Catholic.   I have western views and do have to compartmentalize aspects of the structured "Religion" that don't sit right.   I guess, I'm not a blind sheep.  I have been given the gift of discernment.  Christ's teachings do resonate with me and my mixed family feels welcomed and at home at St. Paul's Catholic Church.   One of my most favorite things about my Catholic faith is communion.   All you have to do is say, "Yes."   There is no mountain to climb, no sweat house to enter, no long hours seated on a meditation cushion.   And, yes, I do do those things... but to keep me connected to God - my Divine Spark.   Each time I receive communion, I feel God's presence with in me.  It's pretty darn cool.   Really, it's rather hot.    I get very hot - kinda sweaty.   A clairvoyant friend told me when I feel that heat, I am, in that moment, connected to Spirit.   It's so awesome that it moves me to tears every time I attend Mass.   It moves me to tears when I'm on top of a mountain witnessing the beauty of creation.   It moves me to tears sweating on my mat when I feel the magnificence of my body's creation.    And it moves me to tears doing my family's dishes when I am serving creation.

It all begins with "Yes."   All you have to do is say, "Yes."  God is goodness and love.

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child with in my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Yes!   Thank you for the questions Stevie Nicks.   The answer is "yes."

Yes, Rabbi Kushner, you are right.
The act of God is the courage of people to rebuild their lives after the earthquake, and the rush of others to help them in whatever way they can.
I'll be saying "yes" at the funeral Mass today for my friend, D's, dad.   I do believe he is partaking in the greatest love-fest, ever.