friday faves - life just is

Recently, in a conversation seemingly about spirituality, a man told me that my son's afflictions exist so that he and I can learn something for our next reincarnation. I took it to mean that Calvin's suffering is intended to teach us both some lesson. I debated with him and, as nicely as possible, told him that I thought his theory was bunk and that no child should have to suffer simply to teach someone a lesson. I went on to suggest that if he had a child like Calvin, or a child with a chronic or terminal illness, he might feel differently. He had no reply.

It’s not uncommon for people who meet me and learn of Calvin’s hardships to say, “everything happens for a reason.” I usually try hard to suppress my disdain for what I believe to be an erroneous, though well-intentioned, theory. My response is simply to tell them that I don’t regard the premise to be true, but rather, that I to choose to construct meaningful outcomes from life’s experiences, much like choosing to see the glass half full instead of half empty.

Another phrase I have heard often over the years is, “life’s not fair.” I never really cared for this assumption either. It has always seemed to me—even when I was a child—that life is neither fair nor unfair. Life just is, or as some might say, “shit happens.”

Some may hold fast to these beliefs perhaps to find solace in the presence of suffering, to somehow understand why suffering occurs at all, and to make sense of something so utterly senseless as a profoundly ill and debilitated child. And although I myself have wondered at times why Calvin is so afflicted—at the same time wishing he were not—I find no comfort or faith in the idea that some greater purpose has been designed that requires it of him. Rather, the knowledge and conveyance of this belief, especially by those who do not know what it is like to love and care for a child who suffers such extensive disorders, honestly turns my stomach.

I have no want for that kind of solace, in fact it's not solace at all. I need only to be there for Calvin and to put all of my effort into finding a way to lessen or stop his suffering. I could choose to wallow in self-pity over my sick child while trying to console myself with some feeble, perverse notion in an attempt to put it all into some sort of neat context that explains it away and makes it all okay. Instead, I choose to seek out and underscore all of the incredible things that I experience because of Calvin, and simply be content to know that he is who he is, not owing to some deliberate plan or design nor because he exists in this condition to teach others a lesson. And since life just is—which resonates deep within my bones—and while I am here, I will make the most of it as it keeps coming my way.

Version originally published 11.26.10.

photo by Michael Kolster


  1. I think that the whole "everything happens for a reason" line of thinking is almost a Darwinian-type survival mechanism. I find myself subscribing to it because how the hell would I keep going through 12 medications, diet, surgery, psychological turmoil? It's easier just to say that everything happens for a reason. Sometimes I believe it--there are definitely certain qualities that have come out of my epilepsy. Maybe greater determination? A greater appreciation for living in the moment? A deeper imagination? But your perspective is much braver. It shouldn't happen at all. To anyone. Sometimes I just can't bring myself to have the courage to admit that.

  2. I do not deal with problems of the magnitude of yours with Calvin, but respond within my life experiences and thoughts exactly as you do...We deal as creatively as we can with life as it is, and in the doing can find rewards. But each one of us is different--and free to work out our own philosophy...and that's good. The bad thing would be to foist one's philosophy on another. Not good.