Years ago a Catholic co-worker told me this joke: “You want to know the real meaning of Catholicism? Bad things happen to you because you are BAD!” I told her that my Southern Baptist upbringing had instilled the same lesson. Though the more I thought about it, I realized that the archetypical evangelical statement is more along the lines of, ‘Bad things happen to you because you’re bad. Bad things happen to me because god is testing me.’
Neither mindset is content to accept that a lot of bad things just happen.
The truth is, humans aren’t comfortable with that idea, no matter how skeptical and rational we may be. For instance, this morning I got a voice message from my husband informing me that he had been in an accident while he was riding his bicycle to work: he’d been hit by a car.
Never mind that he was well enough to operate the phone to tell me what had happened. Or that he was well enough to push his bike the rest of the way to work and would drop it off at the repair shop. I, of course, freaked out.
And as I was calling him to get more details than were in the voice mail and assure myself he was okay, one part of my brain was busy concocting things we should have done to prevent this. I didn’t, at that point, have any details of the accident, but that didn’t stop that corner of my brain from thinking, ‘Why did I let him ride his bike into work?’
There were other crazy voices in my head, too. He had kissed me good-bye when he left, but as usual I wasn’t really awake yet. I couldn’t remember what I had said to him as he left. Had I said anything at all? Or had I just grunted incoherently, laying there half asleep in bed, hoping I could snooze for a few more minutes before I had to actually get up?
Not that any of those things would have prevented the accident, but you have the thoughts, nonetheless.
And that wasn’t all. Another corner of my brain was mad at me for not hearing the phone ring when he called. Even worse, another piece was upset that I didn’t know, somehow, the moment the actual accident happened that it had. I should have felt something, right? You shouldn’t be able to just lay there, snoozing and listening to news on the clock radio, when the person you love is being hurt.
After talking to him, and being reassured many times that he was okay, the various parts of my brain had to keep arguing. The more rational parts tried to talk me down. If he didn’t ride his bike, he could still get hurt. How many times have I almost been hit by a car just walking to the nearest bus stop, for goodness sake? Just two weeks ago I and a bunch of other pedestrians almost got mowed down in the crosswalk 12 feet from my regular bus stop.
And how many times, while riding the bus or walking home, have I seen the car wrecks where at least one of the drivers or passengers in one of the cars had to be taken away in an ambulance?
And what about that time, years ago, when a whacko on a bus shot the bus driver while the bus was crossing a bridge, and the bus plunged off the bridge just a couple miles from our place?
We can’t make anything 100% safe. The rational part of me knows that. But we don’t want our loved ones to be hurt, so we still wish, and plan, and second guess. And some people pray, and other people make bargains with the universe, and other people refuse to think about it as if not thinking about it will prevent it from happening.
All we can do is take reasonable precautions, be aware, and try not to do things that endanger others. I know this. I understand it. I have to live with it.
But I don’t have to like it.