My buddy Bill and I meet every few weeks for a walk along a bike/jogging trail. Today it looks like we won’t be able to make it because it’s pouring rain and it’s supposed to rain most of the day. So, I call it off. But, Bill’s an adventurer, way more adventurous than I. Bill sees a gap in the weather where there is only a 40% chance of rain. For me, a 40% chance means don’t go. For Bill, it means there’s a 60% chance it won’t. So we go for it.
It’s a pleasant, less than 75º day, a rarity for this time of year. It has thunder stormed most of the night so the trail is covered with less and small branches. The bicyclists are not here today, and few walkers are. The river is running higher than I’ve ever seen it and the stream crossings are flowing faster than I’ve ever seen. We talk about Bill’s kids returning to school. Bill doesn’t read my blog, so he doesn’t know that just a couple of days ago, I wrote about how watching other people’s kids go back to school is painful for me now. His daughter has just been dropped off at UK (an hour and a half away) for her first year. His son is deciding where he’s going for his junior year. Bill’s dealing with the first year of one away from home and helping his son make this decision. He’s going to be an empty nester for the first time. Ah… the struggles of being a parent.
I tell Bill I don’t want to be this way, but the graduation parties, the kids going back to school, they are all painful for me. I want to be happy for other people and I am genuinely happy for them. I don’t begrudge them anything. I just miss that for myself and for Tywana. And facing Kayla going back to school adds to the loss because the house is just so quiet when she’s not here, upstairs in her room 😉 .
We dive into philosophy. Bill is a pretty fundamentalist Christian. We discuss the problem of evil (the age old theodicy question). I’ve come to the conclusion that what we perceive as evil is just what we don’t (yet) understand. There are no accidents, it’s all planned and it’s all working together for the good. What we perceive as “bad” is that which we do not yet understand. I give Bill the example of a toddler getting a vaccination. When you stick that kid with a needle he screams like it’s the end of the world. He has no idea why you would poke him with a needle. You know however, that needle stick could save his life one day. You know that pain is worth it. Bill comes back to the Christian worldview that the world is wrong. It’s screwed up. It’s off of its original design. Something went wrong with creation and evil popped up. God allows this evil to exist for a time. Then God will set things right. That begs a lot of questions. Was God not able to anticipate the evil? Couldn’t God just stamp it out now? How does any entity operate outside of God’s will? I leave those questions for now and allow Bill to express his view. This is an area where we have agreed to disagree. Then Bill brings up Romans 8:28. Ah… now this we can agree on. “All things work together for good.” We may not agree on the mechanism, but we can agree on the outcome.
Bill asks me how I’ve been doing. He’s one of the two or three people in the world I can be completely transparent with. I tell him “Not good.” These last few weeks have been particularly tough, again. He asks if it’s the back to school stuff, the graduations, etc. Maybe… I don’t overanalyze it. I tell him that grief is just exhausting and sometimes I don’t know how I’m going to “make it”. We discuss the “making it” concept. Bill gets it. He says “What I hear you saying is that you can only look out so far into the future. Looking any further overwhelms you because you are carrying so much pain you cannot bear the thought of carrying that pain for all of those years.” Yes. I tell him “It’s like running a race, Bill. The Olympics are on right now. When you watch the 100m dash, you see runners running one way. When you watch the marathon, they are running a completely different way. I don’t have any idea how long the race is going to be, so I don’t know how to run it. I just want it to be over.”.
Bill analyzes all of this and comes back with what is obvious. If I could stop holding onto the past and stop looking at the future as if it will always be like today, if I could get “unstuck”, I could go forward in life and regain the joy I once had. No duh, Bill. I tell him “Yes. I realize this. But, that’s the problem.
First of all, letting go of the past is easier said than done. I’ve studied Buddhism and one of the first principles of Buddhism is attachment is the cause of all suffering.” This is also a ‘no duh’ observation. If you never love anything, never hold onto anything, you will never feel the pain of having it ripped from you. The problem is we are not robots, we are human beings. Now, my practice is to the point where i can easily let go of most things. I look at the world through a very different lens now. I know I am just passing through. I drive around and look at buildings coming and going, and I know that this is all temporary. The problem is I am still attached to people. I tell him I am as attached to Shayna as I’ve ever been to any person and always will be. Therefore, I will always (in this life) suffer. I don’t know that I can break that attachment because I don’t know that I want to. Yes. I know it makes no sense to hold onto something that is causing you pain to the point of wanting to die. But, I’d rather die than let go of Shayna. What’s so important about this 3D life anyway? Why am I even still here? These are the questions I wrestle with now.
We wrap up our walk at this point. It’s good to talk with someone who gets it even though we are worlds apart on religion. Bill asks if he can make another book recommendation to me. I think he’s still trying to get me back into the fold of Christianity. He opens his car, and I see three books. “Have you read ‘Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis?” I explain to him I have read everything C.S. Lewis wrote. “Oh. Did you read his last one ‘Surprised by Joy’?” Yep. After I read “A Grief Observed”. I tell him my favorite C.S. Lewis book is “The Great Divorce” because of its description of the doors of hell being locked from the inside. He moves to the next book. “Have you read anything by Philip Yancey?” “Yes. He and C.S. Lewis were two of my favorite authors when I was making the trip out of fundamentalism.” He reaches for the third book, “Have you read ‘Wild At Heart’ by John Eldredge?” Yep. Read the book, and went on the weekend retreat. Got the t-shirt I even gave it to my father and my mother listened to it on tape.
So, now it’s my turn. I ask him if he’s heard of Emanuel Swedenborg. He has not. I tell him I’m going to send him a link to a video that explains (for the most part) what I think about the “problem of evil” and why bad things happen. Why Bad Things Happen is a long video but it’s one of the best descriptions of why (from a Christian perspective) God allows and uses “evil” to suit His purposes which is our “salvation”.
It’s time to go. Bill’s got to get to work, and so do I. He prays for me, and we part ways. I only got in 4.3 miles, and I didn’t get my quiet time. So, when I get home, I do another couple of miles and process some of the things we talked about.
I can’t know this, so I won’t state it with certainty, but I don’t see how suffering will not be a part of my life for the rest of my life. There just is no letting go.