Tywana and I have this conversation all the time. We’ve both bought into the idea that we have soul groups and we make plans for our lives for things that we will learn and grow from and things that will help others. That’s all well and good in theory, but why would anyone plan a serious illness, a handicap, dying at an early age, the death of a child? It makes no sense from the perspective of the ego, from the perspective of having one life to live to get all the peace and happiness and joy we can out of it. Wrapping our heads around planning Shayna’s early passing is difficult at best. What I have realized about life is it rarely makes sense in the moment. And we don’t know what is coming, so looking forward is impossible. Life only makes sense looking backwards.
We can all probably think of the loss of something in our lives that we thought would be the end. The loss of a job, a divorce, a business failure. I remember being in seventh grade and my parents telling me they were transferring me out of the school in my neighborhood and sending me across town to school in an all white neighborhood where I knew absolutely no one. My school wasn’t bad, but my grades weren’t what they should have been and the academic programs offered at my school weren’t as advanced as the ones offered at the other schools. I was devastated. I still remember sobbing in my room thinking it was the end of my social life, as much of one as I had. Looking back on it nearly 40 years later I realize that was the best decision for me. There could have been no other. Had that not occurred, I don’t have any idea where I’d be at this moment. My divorce was another devastating “failure”, a setback. It was an embarrassment. But, here I am 30 years later glad for that experience. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Then there are the things life gives us we don’t want. Over 30 years ago I was talking with my then girlfriend about race. We were talking about being born black. I said to her “Of course I’d prefer to be white. Who in his right mind would look down at this place from Heaven and choose to be black?” Being white, as Louis C.K. says, doesn’t make you better but being white clearly is better. No, there is no way I would have ever believed that I chose to be black. Fast forward 35 years or so. Today I am engaged in a Facebook conversation about the perils of being black. The whole country is focused on race in light of recent shootings of black men and the recent deaths of five police officers in Dallas, a hate crime committed by a frustrated black man. A black Senator gave a 10 minute speech on his experience being black on Capitol Hill. He gave very real and concrete examples of how he has been treated differently. I posted it. Surely, this will reach some of my Republican friends. The lack of empathy by so many straight, white, Christian males is absolutely stunning to me. Every time I think I have an example, a study, a metaphor that they simply have to understand, that they cannot deny, that will finally pierce their seemingly impenetrable shield which repels all data and logic, they find a way to amaze me again. I’m convinced that never having to suffer or feel injustice inhibits the ability to develop a sense of empathy. I can honestly say I am glad I was born black. I think it’s made me a better person than I would be otherwise.
Yesterday, the son of Alton Sterling, a man who was shot several times as two officers had him pinned on the ground, spoke on behalf of his father. Just a week or so after his father was killed in front of the whole world (captured on video) and after a week of people bad-mouthing his father, basically saying he deserved to be killed, this boy stood up and called for peace and non-violent protest. I’ve noticed that so many of the families- Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, etc. etc. have handled these situations with a peace and grace that I find to be amazing. Why is that so? Were they chosen for these difficult assignments? Did they sign up for them? Or has their experience to this point, the struggles they’ve dealt with, somehow given them a perseverance, patience and peace that others don’t have?
Romans 5 says: We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.
I truly believe one day I’ll look back on all of this and see why I actually planned it as painful and distasteful as it is now. For now, work the plan.