The toughest part of my job as a speaker is that I’m often called into a school or community after there has been a tragedy, a suicide or violence. People want to know “why?” and I don’t have the “whys.” “Why?” was the question that defined my own life: Why was I struck with terrible depression as a young teenager? Why did I have to spend years in “The System?” Why was I so lonely and had to live in such pain and fear?
The breakthrough for me came when I was diagnosed with MS, and asked the doctor, “Why did I get MS? I’ve been battling mental illness almost my whole life.” I didn’t think I needed another “character builder.” And the doctor answered my question and said that I didn’t do anything wrong. I had simply got MS. Like Buddha said, in our lives we’re going to have ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows and we don’t get the one without the other. We wouldn’t KNOW the one without the other. They are all gifts, teachers and meditations in our lives, wanted or not. I’ve learned now that there are often no “whys,” no one to blame, no test of faith, or punishment for some broken law.
Sometimes things are within our power to change, and sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes drunks run red lights, sometimes we get MS or schizophrenia or cancer, sometimes our sons get addicted to Meth or our daughters get pregnant. Sometimes there are divorces or diagnoises of terrible illnesses, or even deaths. But if we try to find “why,” to lay blame for everything that happens to us in our lives, good or bad, it can distract us from living our lives and seeing that even in those tough times, there are great insights learned, deeper connection with others, and a reawakening of our hearts of courage.
When asked about the poor young man who did the shooting at Virginia Tech, or the young man who did the shooting at Red Lake or the two at Columbine, or the man at the Amish school, or any of the other places of pain that seem to be epidemic in our country these days, I tell people that if these young men are to be pityed as much as their victims. That the illness or abuse or bullying or torture or isolation that they went through as mere children must have been a hell too terrible to imagine. That if their bodies were as ill, twisted and in as much agony as their minds and souls were, we would have all taken pity on them and taken them into our own homes so we could care for them. That spirits can become ill just as flesh can. That if we want this terrible toll to end, we have to honestly examine and change and fund the kind of culture and programs that will not allow anyone to slip through the cracks. That the price for helping those in crisis, illness and pain will be high in money, but worth it a thousand times over for the human suffering it will ease. That we must wake up from the selfish nightmare that has made our culture one where kindness is weakness, honesty is foolishness and cruelty is entertainment. And to struggle to have the wisdom and grace to understand that sometimes there is nothing anyone could have done differently, no crucial ingredient that could have been discovered, and that, frighteningly and frustrating as it sometimes can be, there are no “whys.”
Pete Feigal can be contacted at [email protected]