Everything Happens. A Thanksgiving Day Reflection.

Sh*t happens. Everything happens for a reason. These are two popular phrases that many use, and few combine. When anyone tries, the outrage is reflexive. Disease? Disaster? Death? Happening for X reason? That’s language of blame. We’re sensitive to blame, and the way it reveals our refusal to own the result of our actions.

It’s much easier for us to say that good things happen for a reason. There’s no outrage. We accept the relationship between the terms, and happily extend them. We say, “everything” while we mean only “good” things. There’s no blame, so there’s less resistance. Some folks like to say that a good result was “meant to be.” Good fortune is then gifted by God, or the kindness of another. I suppose that can be true. Still, along the way, I think we miss that when we say things like this, we’re absolving ourselves of the good fortune which can also result from our actions. Instead we’re giving it to a someone else, or higher power who has a “plan.” I wonder, why are we so unwilling to accept that we have the ability to make good choices ourselves?

My Dad is in the hospital. Last week he had an emergency quadruple bypass. He’d been at a used book sale, and found himself slumping and without energy. My mom, from her corner of the room they were in, saw that he was supporting himself by holding on to a post. He was sweating. He didn’t know what was going on. “I couldn’t figure out what was happening” he said later. He’d been feeling a dull pain in his chest for weeks. We’ve learned since that his arteries were 90% clogged. I shook my head when he told us he was trying to “figure out what was happening.” Of course he was. It’s his, there’s-an-over-the-counter-medicine-for-this, way that he has of problem solving health issues. It’s a way that he doesn’t make good decisions. Choices. A person makes hundreds each day. Most of them don’t make any difference in our lives or that of others. It’s not something we think about because there isn’t any need to. It’s simply part of living.

At the book sale, a volunteer staff person saw my dad slumping, and asked him if he wanted a glass of water. He accepted the offer. My parents were grateful for the moment of kindness. I’m not sure if anyone tried to help them after that. Further kindness at the book sale is not part of the story they’re telling. At this point, additional kindnesses are as likely to be details hidden behind the larger moments leading to his surgery, as they are of something which did not happen. It can be a challenge to offer help. We don’t want to offend. We’re convinced that we don’t know how. We are afraid that we’ll do the wrong thing. We think things like it’s not really our business to get involved, because who knows what the real situation is… The way those questions play in our mind? They’re the dark side of the wide Libertarian streak we’ve embraced. It’s not just government we don’t trust. We don’t know how to trust each other, or ourselves. These same things also make it difficult to ask for help when we need it.

Last night a friend said, “Bypass? I went through that with my dad in January.” Another, “my dad had a new ticker installed five years ago.” And, “mine had this done ten years ago.” In the last week, I’ve been amazed at the sheer number of people who have joined in, saying “me, and us, too.” As a friend put it on Facebook, “It’s not so much that we ‘like’ this status, as we ‘understand.'” For me, the chorus of these messages is another reminder that while we have a terrible habit of thinking that no one understands what we’re going through, we all move through the same kinds of things in life. Often these events, are exactly the same.

After drinking some water, my parents returned home. The next day they called my sister, who lives a few short blocks away from them. She called their doctor, and made sure he would see them on Monday. Monday’s visit to their GP led to a return on Tuesday for tests with a cardiologist. That doctor drove them to the hospital in his own car. In retrospect that may not have been the best choice–an ambulance being able to provide more support–but in the moment it was a decision that spoke to the urgency the situation required. From my sister, to my parents doctors, here were good decisions. We make them, too.

Today is Thanksgiving. The family is dining today in the hospital cafeteria. I’m a little anxious about that. It’s different. It’s also something that people do every year. We won’t be alone. Not in this, either. Another friend said, “Thanksgiving in a hospital with a sick relative? Been there. Done that.” For a brief moment I thought of asking, “Yes, but, how was the stuffing?” Then I remembered the most obvious thing. This day isn’t about the what of the meal. The work of service by those preparing and providing the food, will still take place. It’s not about the where of the meal either. Home isn’t about walls and a roof. Home is where ever you happen to be, with people you love. Today is a day for being together. A family gathers, and give thanks. In this, a life where everything happens.

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