Is The World Broken? (Part 2)
Calamities happen – large and small. People die. You miss the bus. It rains. Wars begin. Children starve. You forget your lip balm. Are these things proof that the world is falling apart? While it may seem wrong to put all of these things in the same category, they are all ways in which the world fails to conform to our desires and our plans. It may seem funny to state it this way, but really what we are saying is, “The world is good when it is doing the things that I think it should and that make me happy – and when it doesn’t, that is proof that the world is falling apart.” Stating it in this way allows us to see how limited our thinking really is. In order to have a world that makes everyone on the planet happy, we would have to have seven billion different worlds, each world tailored to the preferences of each individual human being. Obviously, in our present world, that is not the way that it goes.
Clearly it is not our preferences or desires that determine how things go in the world. Instead, some other criteria is used to determine whether the surf is up in Maui on any given Sunday. Somebody, or Something, gets to determine whether Uncle Joe lives to be eighty-five and increasingly cantankerous, or keels over at fifty of a massive heart attack. We may get that job and we may not, and it is not up to us (at least not much) or else we’d all have the corner office and an exceedingly light schedule. In matters of love there would be no loneliness or conflict, but we know that the world is full of many lonely people, and the people who are not alone may instead be conflicted and unhappy.
One thing we can let go of is the idea that a good world is a world that serves up our preferences, twenty-four seven, piping hot from the kitchen on the main deck, with a live band, just in time for sunset. Instead, there does seem to be some sort of plan, but certainly we are not the planner, and our preferences and desires are not the guide. There seems to be an intelligence that creates order from chaos, rules over cycles that rise and fall, ignites life and then extinguishes it, and that is responsible for incredible beauty and some jaw-dropping ugliness.
Once we let go of our need, or our illusion, of having a say, (or our addiction to whining about it afterwards) the world starts to look more and more awesome. Not awesome like a cold beer on a hot beach with a cool babe, but awesome like when you are looking at something that is too big and too great to wrap your mind around or even begin to understand. At this point we might catch a glimpse behind the veil and see for a moment that something truly great is happening; something much more vast than our limited, human perspective. At this point, concepts like ‘happy’ and ‘sad’ or ‘preferable’ and ‘not preferable’ begin to fall away. Now all we can see are the huge waves that rise and fall, and we can choose what narrative we decide to tell ourselves about those waves.
One of my favorite sayings of all time comes from a movie (thank you Twin Falls, Idaho). “There is no such thing as a sad story, only a story that has stopped being told.”
There’s a famous tale about an old man’s son who finds a wild horse, tames it and learns to ride it. However, he eventually falls off the horse, breaks his leg, cannot work, cannot be conscripted into the Czar’s army and on, and on….. Is it good? Perhaps. Is it bad? Perhaps. What is bad? What is good? The old man shakes his head; he does not pretend to know. The end of the story has not yet been told – the end of the story may never be told.
Until God dies and makes us Elvis, (or Elvis dies and makes us God) we do not have a safety deposit box with a little videotape inside labeled ‘The Truth.’ As of now we are (as Viktor Frankl put it) ‘meaning makers.’ We choose the narrative we wish to tell. Just as in the previous column where we spoke about how the world is whole or broken, depending on our choices, the world is also good or bad, happy or sad, depending on the story we tell about it. It is how we see it. A transformer consciously creates the narrative that they choose to tell.
What is the narrative that you create to tell to the world? What is the narrative that you choose to tell to yourself? Choose and create it carefully because the narrative that you tell determines the world that you live in, not just for yourself, but for those around you as well, and for the world as a whole.
A word about suffering. Suffering creates its own unique challenges. The darkness and pain created by suffering is exceeded only by the light that it can potentially create. No one wants such tests. However, the following saying is (poignantly) true: “I have seen much suffering in the world – and I have seen much overcoming of suffering as well.” Here’s a slightly different version: “I have seen much suffering – and I have seen much redemption.” Redemption in this case means the ability to find light in darkness and to elevate that which seems broken and fallen. Yes, it is possible to suffer like mute animals, and we do that. That suffering is to be greeted with kindness and compassion as we seek to relieve our own suffering and perhaps the suffering of others as well. However, it is also possible to take the destruction that suffering has wrought and weave from the broken pieces a new pattern that is iridescent, something that lets the light shine in and out in kaleidoscopic patterns that were not there before. When something is shattered, sparks fly all over. We can peer through those holes to glimpse the hidden essence, and we can weave from those sparks a new and powerful force – until the next storm comes.
Next column: The Angel on our Shoulder: Cultivating a Relationship with Death