The existential meaningless of falling off your bicycle
December 29, 2015 § 38 Comments
People love to find meaning in stuff. “The movement of the stars at birth determines your character!”
“The lines on your palm tell your future!”
“These tea leaves reveal tomorrow’s stock gains!”
Another place people love to find meaning is in misfortune. It’s well-intentioned and it reflects the root of all human hope, which is optimism. Unfortunately, it’s hogwash.
Now before you chastise me for another ramble down Pity Lane, keep in mind that I have to come up with something to write about virtually every day, and for better or worse my cracked pelvis keeps on giving.
Of all the condolences I get, and being a pity whore I lap them all up and gladly solicit new ones by showing up at events with a crutch even though I no longer need it, the only one that I can’t swallow is this one: “Everything happens for a reason.”
If it stopped there I’d be fine, but it never does. The “everything-happens-for-a-reason” person follows it up with an observation about how being hurt changes your perspective, makes you humble, helps you appreciate what you’ve got, sharpens your will to get better, and is frankly a blessing in disguise because “After all, you’re lucky you weren’t killed.”
And all of that might be true. The problem is, none of it is connected with “Everything happens for a reason” because the only “reason” that anything happens is due to a confluence of decisions, circumstances, physics, and good old randomness.
There is no Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker brandishing The Force to weave the details of my stupid bicycle-falling-off-incident so that it will make me a better person. In fact, the people around me would agree that it’s made me a worse person, if such is possible.
Awful, horrific, hideous things with life-altering consequences (permanently and for the worse) happen all the time. Children have bombs dropped on their heads in Syria, children get kidnapped and sold into slavery in Nigeria, little kids get shot on the porch in Cleveland, and thousands of Korean women got press-ganged into prostitution for the Japanese Imperial Army during WWII.
And you know what? None of that was for the better, and none of it happened because of Dog or Fate or the Tea Leaves.
Now you could argue that the world is made a better place by having one less old fellow sporting around on a bicycle in his underwear while wearing stretchy bottoms that force everyone in the coffee shop to avert their eyes at the shriveled shrimp exposed in high relief by his tight pants.
And you could also argue that my bicycle falling off incident DID happen for a reason, as long as you state the reason as “Stupid choice of yours at the wrong time on the wrong road and the even-handed application of physics.”
But make me a better person?
That won’t happen until I’m allowed to eat all the pecan pie I want. Which isn’t now.
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If I ever meet you in person and you still have your crutch – knowing you are using it for pity’s sake – can i kick you in the shins? just kidding!
You can try!
“Everything happens for a reason” is right up there with “There but for the grace of god go I…” Really? Because your god graced you, you are more fortunate than someone else? I’m not sure anyone who says that actually thinks about what they’re saying. But they mean well. 🙂
When I’ve heard that comment, Deb, it seems that the speaker meant: “That person is where they are because of poor choices. I’ve made better choices, and hence am in a better position. However, I acknowledge that I could have made the same poor choices – I even felt the pull toward them – I’m made of the same feeble stuff that person is. I will not stand and take personal credit for my better choices on the basis of being superior to that other person. Instead, I will place the credit in a God which I claim to have given me the strength to make that better choice when I could have done otherwise.”
In general, it is usually a statement of humility rather than an expression of faith. If you’ve heard it used in a spirit of entitlement, then I pity the speaker who said it.
So … dog has visited catastrophe on, say, children in Syria, because of your better choices? Not following you here.
I actually have said that and I don’t believe in god (technically agnostic). It always seems odd when it comes out but it seems to fit best. For me it means that person lived the same life I do and came upon misfortune that I somehow have been lucky enough to miss. I don’t actually feel anyone or anything gave me that advantage, just dumb luck. But we don’t have a phrase for that. “Boy am I lucky” convey they same message.
“Boy am I dumb lucky” works for me.
However, luck is simply another word for randomness. So it would be best to say, “Boy am I random.”
I’m random is totally unsatisfying. Oh maybe “I’m starry”. I like that. But it lacks the sympathy/empathy to the other person’s misfortune.
There’s nothing unsympathetic about recognizing randomness. Or physics … the universe is filled with impersonal facts that nevertheless render very personal consequences.
Nah, should’ve clarified that I was specifying circumstances that came about due to choice, not random luck. The homeless drug addict that grew up in my neighborhood with roughly the same advantages in life that I enjoyed for example. Different life path…mostly due to choice.
*shrug* I’m not the right person to be an apologist for however else you’ve heard it used, and clearly any phrase with “God” in it touches nerves hereabouts. 🙂
Dog graced me with health and punished the shit out of all those sick people. That will teach them. Oh, wait a minute, no it won’t because they’ll burn in hell for eternity with no parole.
And the corollary … dog is punishing you for bad choices? What about all the folks who’ve made the same bad choices and go unpunished? Very complicated set of rules …
That’s because of my favorites “dog works in mysterious ways” and “Everything is preordained”
Since everything’s preordained it must not be very mysterious.
Stop making sense – Heretic!
We’ll return to the normally senseless programming tomorrow.
Thank dog for that.
Hear about the dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac? He lay awake at night pondering the meaning of dog…
Pretty good …
Tragedy creates an opportunity for reflection and thought. Different people take a different approach when tragedy comes to their life. For the religious person, they find comfort in a grand plan. The idea that a “bad thing” has a “greater good” purpose. For the non religious person like myself, this same idea is a painful insult.
One thing that has been true, at least for me, is that tragedy causes me to reflect on the inevitable suffering that all lives, including my own, will endure. And what do to about it. We can, at our choice, create our own purpose from the tragic struggle. Or we can, at our choice, just wait until the tragic time passes. The saying time heals all wounds is almost true. So there is a good chance that just waiting things out will allow the tragic to become a faint memory. I personally find it more rewarding to fully embrace the tragic. To fully live life, you push both the lows and the highs. In so doing I find the highs, when the tragic is absent, are much more valuable.
When people ask me , “Why am I in a good mood”, I always answer the same way. I say, “its because I am going to die. That all my loved ones are going to get sick and die. That all my treasured worldly possessions will get thrown into a dumpster, probably by my children. But its not happening today, so today I am happy.”
Get better my friend.
Working on it!!
I was raised Christian, and as I understood the Catechism, there is no promise of life being easy or fun, or not-tragic or not-painful. And the reasons for the disbursement of tragedy and happiness among the citizens is not to be in the know of any terrestrial beings. That’s what we were told as little kids.
So I don’t get it when the religious question why tragedies are “allowed” to happen. Read yer bible.
As I understand it, Adam and Eve had two boys, and from those three dudes and one rib-chick everyone else was propagated. Talk about “My paw is my grandpaw” and “That’s my bro-dad,” and “She’s my sis-mom.” Ewwwwww.
I questioned that as a youngling and was told the Adam and Eve story was one of many repeated around the world at the same time, that’s why there is different races. Yeah, they lost me.
Son, meet your momwife.
What a shitty deal because pecan pie is about the best stuff on earth. Ahh screw it, eat the pie.
In my case, it would be “pies.” No thanks to Smasher.
I agree Dan, eat the pie Seth! Eat the pie! You just need to embrace the consequences as firmly as the pie.
As for “everything happens for a reason” – it does. In the case of your bike crash, physics will explain it best. Beyond that is fairytale land.
Physics alone will not explain it. We must add the following elements: 1) Decisions 2) Circumstances 3) Randomness.
Wouldn’t eating all the pecan pie you want make you a bigger as opposed to a better person? 😉 Thanks for writing!
Bigger for sure. Thanks for reading!
Let Jesus take the pie-shaped wheel.
Can I have some more 3.14?
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
But not when you … do that … thing …
Yeah that one & the old classic “he died doing what he loved” reeks of bullshit to me. There are many things I like ce to do which are dangerous but death is not on my mind while doing them. I guess if I die one day on my bike or motorcycle & that saying makes somebody feel better about it…..never mind….still bullshit!