Why Me?

David had a classmate, Marjorie, who died of cancer this last winter.

I never got to meet her. Not for any particular reason. At first we just weren’t in the same place at the same time. Then her tumors came back and she finally withdrew from the acupuncture college. Because I wasn’t a friend, I didn’t go visit her when everyone went to say good-bye. It just didn’t seem right.

But I felt like I knew her, because David liked her so much and often related to me the things they talked about.

One thing that stuck with me – she told David that she finally had to get over the idea that she was a bad or negative person because she developed the cancer, because it ultimately defeated her. See, when you’re in the natural healing world, there are strong ideas that your mental attitude governs your health. Negativity or bad emotions promote chronic disease states is the thinking. Positive thinking creates health and healing.

All of this success stuff comes from similar philosophies. “I create my own success.” Your life becomes what you envision it to be. Anything can be yours if you simply envision it, be positive and make it happen.

The flip side, of course, is that if you don’t get what you want, it’s because you failed. Failed to envision enough, be positive enough, what have you.

Like with Marjorie. She failed to cure her own cancer. But she ultimately decided to refuse to accept that as a personal failure.

She lived ten years past her initial diagnosis of terminal cancer. She enjoyed her life and continued to follow her passions. Part of that meant coming to terms with not seeing herself as a bad person because she got sick. How she dealt with the disease truly showed her strength of character. And she died surrounded by friends and loved ones, both animal and human.

This is what I was trying to get at on Friday. I’m not sure I did a very good job.

(Either that or everyone was out enjoying their summer weekend, which is all to the good.)

I absolutely believe we have a hand in our own successes. But I think there’s danger in believing we can control fate. It would be nice, sure. Tempting to try. Ultimately, though, the universe goes where it goes and takes us with it. Sometimes beautiful summer days fill our weekends. Sometimes tornadoes hit. The weather falls equally on the good people and the bad people, the positive thinkers and the bitter, angry ones.

The differences show in how we handle it.

We love to tell stories about grace under pressure. The heroics, large and small, that shine when disaster hits. We rarely talk about how well someone handles success.

My favorite religious studies professor, David Hadas, who I quote often, pointed out to me that, when tragedies occur, we look up to whatever gods we follow and ask “why me?” Rarely, he said, does anyone look at some amazing bounty they’ve received and ask the gods, “why me?”

It’s easy to believe that, when our efforts are rewarded with success, it’s because we are so wonderful and deserving. But that’s as much of a trap as believing that we deserve cancer. Or tornadoes.

The true test is how we handle it.

4 Replies to “Why Me?”

  1. I agree with so much of this…and I'm sorry David has lost a friend. I wonder if humanity's lack of "why me?" with most good things is founded on the need to fix our lives. To adjust the sails in the face of poor winds and to rest when the sailing is easy…

    Your words remind me of my true belief that sometimes bad things happen (like cancer and tornadoes) and yet my often paltry attempts to control the uncontrollable (like cancer and tornadoes).

    Be well Jeffe.

  2. Bless you. There's a whole branch of my family devoted to the positive thinking thing. A couple are on the big-time motivational speaker circuit and they've all worked for Tony Robbins at one time or another.

    Their constant preaching that if you believe thoroughly enough, you can make your dreams come true has to be the most depressing philosophy I can think of. Because if the day isn't right or the time isn't right or there's no market for, say, llama massagers, well, it's you're own damn fault for not believing.

    Tangentially, they don't allow themselves to be angry or sad because that's not positive. I agree one doesn't need to wallow, but I think there's such thing as taking it too far.

    I talked a lot. This is a pet peeve for me. Thanks for the venue.

  3. " Negativity or bad emotions promote chronic disease states is the thinking. Positive thinking creates health and healing."

    This kind of thinking makes me so angry!
    A collegue of mine just died of cancer last week and he was only 32. He was always positive and friendly to everyone. He even managed to comfort others who felt bad about him being terminally sick. Egh… *stalks of muttering angrily*

  4. I can see that, Kristina – we always want to strive to fix our lives. I just think need to be careful of assuming all the blame, or all the credit, for what we get.

    Aha, Marin – you know many of the same people I do! And yes, I'm getting really tired of the success/coaching culture. It strikes me as very interesting that the "success" the Tony Robbins types enjoy is predicated, not on selling llama massagers, but on manipulating people. I have an issue with that.

    Sorry about your colleague, Sullivan. This kind of thing makes me angry, too. I'm glad that he was able to remain a positive and friendly person who was a comfort to those around him. It doesn't get healthier than that.

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