Life isn’t (un)fair…

universe-hd-photo95-JPGA long time ago I stopped believing in a fair universe. From everything I’ve observed, life is a mix of intentionality, chance and inevitability. I have a small amount of agency; I work hard and pay my taxes and volunteer all of which come with their own rewards. But for the most part, life is just as likely to kick me in the balls as it is to let me win the lottery. Nature has no sense of justice outside of its laws of cause and effect. It is up to me to create fairness from an otherwise apathetic life.

When I believed God was in charge of everything, I had mantras like “it’s all part of God’s plan” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle” to fall back on whenever undeservedly bad things happened to good people. (let’s be honest, bad people deserve it, right?) Eventually they all became platitudes. Because as more curses and blessings stacked up, most of which without any catalyst, God’s plan began to look like trying to read tea leaves and God had a funny sense of what people could handle vs. what they should have to handle. In the end I was forced to reject the notion of a just God because a just God wouldn’t stand idly by in the face of so much injustice.

free-willNot just the kind of injustice that people intentionally cause; not crime or war or corporate greed or any of the millions of ways we dehumanize each other. I’m talking about the stupid everyday injustice, like car accidents and slipping on a patch of ice and breaking your leg. Accidents with horrible consequences. The butterfly effect of causality that reaps human life. I can’t even buy into the “free will” answer: God doesn’t intervene because he loves our free will more than he loves starving children. It’s bullshit, because that’s not love or justice, that’s an excuse. Therefore, I was left with either rejecting my preconceptions about God or believing in a lie.

Recently, my father-in-law passed away. While he was not perfect, he lived a good and clean life. He didn’t smoke. He drank less than occasionally. He was a runner. He attended church, was married more than 30 years and was an overall good man. He was diagnosed with throat cancer, which spread to his brain and eventually to the rest of his body. The doctors originally gave him 6 months to live. He fought for over 4 years until May 11th, 2015. There it is; blessings and curses all wrapped up in a whole ball of intentionality, chance and inevitability. If a just God did exist, this wouldn’t have happened.

BristleconeThe ironic part is I wish I still believed in a just God because right now I could really use something to blame. I want to look God in the eye and say “You are wrong! You did this! This is your fault and how dare you proclaim love and justice and mercy and compassion when you let good men suffer and die!” I am angry because Andy didn’t deserve to die. Not this way; not like this. He deserved better from his God than he received. There are millions of other people in the world who are more deserving than he was to die of cancer. This is a horrible statement but right now I feel horrible and selfish and hurt and confused and broken. And tired.

Right now I am just. So. Tired. Because what is the point? Why should I work so hard for ideals that go against the very fabric of the universe? Why should I care? In a just universe I’d be able to look at my son and tell him that life will be kind. But right now all I can tell him is that he will never know his grandfather; that he was robbed of having a good man in his life because life isn’t fair.

Life just is.

It is a hard lesson and I’m left with one lonely realization; if there is going to be justice in this world then I’m going to have to be the one making it happen. It’s up to me to create justice where it doesn’t exist. Because that is what I want to do. The responsibility has been passed from God to me and it’s a heavy load. 11238228_10153338843751934_1951030714927036305_nFortunately I know a whole lot of other people who are working to lighten that load. I know miracle workers on the margins of society who squeeze justice from life like blood from stone and I want to be just as strong and powerful and tireless as them. And maybe if I can just keep trying, keep believing in love and justice, I can make my father-in-law’s death mean something.

Because I think that’s what he would have wanted. And it’s what I want. Rest in love Andy. I’ll keep working on the justice.

Losing (My) Control Over Things…

I am what I am...
I am what I am…

I tend to treat my emotions like I play poker: conservatively. I do the same thing with cognitive dissonance. Perhaps it’s part of my “nineness.” I am happiest when everything is in balance and at peace. (Is it ever?) When peace and balance is broken, I have three stages:

  1. Ignore it until it goes away.
  2. If it can’t be ignored, fix it.
  3. Explode.

My capacity for stages one and two has a pretty high bar. My goal is to be as zen as possible. In seminary I learned some skills; how to see myself in others and to see others for themselves; how to choose between judgment and compassion; how to (try) and let go.

Boom.
Boom.

These have all served me well over the years. However, the problem is when stage three is reached: the explosion. Too much pressure over time without release ends badly for all involved. Usually it’s just a little thing that sets off the explosion; in this case it was fruit flies.

Full disclosure: I harbor a deep seeded dislike and fear for 99.9% of insects. (.1% reserved for butterflies) However, I have a healthy respect for what they do for the ecosystem. If given the choice I just gently remove them from my vicinity instead of killing them. A face full of fruit flies is not so much a choice as it is born from a sub-circle of hell.

Just one more little twist should do it...
Just one more little twist should do it…

Before the explosion, there was the buildup.

Our house was broken into. You can read all about that here.

We’ve been hosting a friend over the last few months. I love him like a brother and am blessed that we can help out. Heather and I have a policy that we share what we have with our loved ones. The challenge is that having a long term guest breaks our routines and strains some resources. Plus he has a cat.

I understand that pets are, emotionally, like second children. I look at our own dog Leia and couldn’t imagine life without her. A second animal in the house takes some getting used to. She is a great little cat; but being a cat means she abides by her own sense of behavior. It means new boundaries and adjustments, like making sure she doesn’t sneak outside or eats the dog’s food.

We found out the dog has fleas.

Truth.
Truth.

Then there’s the household chores, work, etc.

The list goes on ad infinitum. I can usually shoulder most, if not all, of it under normal circumstances. What changed is Seattle’s weather. Most notably, it’s warmer and drier than normal weather. This caused allergy season to go from “normal” into “extreme.” Last year, I had very mild allergies. This year, I have been a miserable wreck. Constant sinus misery is my kryptonite: it completely breaks my calm and collected self. It causes my dissonance meter to malfunction and small things suddenly become BIG things.

death to the human!
death to the human!

So when I picked up the kitchen compost and a bunch of fruit flies exploded in my face, I exploded. All over my poor wife. It’s because she was there and because she’s emotionally available to me. This wasn’t a “break all the things” and “somebody call the police” breakdown. It was more of a seething, rolling, uncontrollable wave of frustration. The more I tried to hold back, the angrier I became. She was afraid I was going to hurt the dog. (which I would NEVER do no matter how angry I was) But I can understand how scary it must be to see me lose it.

Done.
Done.

In the moment, all the little things that cause me irritation and annoyance became targets. I blamed myself, my wife, my friend, the dog, the cat, and everything else I could for not doing enough to make things “perfect.” The emotional volcano had erupted.

And it kept on erupting. I had no control over it. Every time I would try and relax and take a step back, I would just get angrier. The catharsis had to run its course. I had to just BE angry. So I was… for 24 hours. I didn’t tell my wife I loved her, I couldn’t stand the thought of talking to friends. Truthfully, I was not myself.

Finally I was able to just let go and be normal again. Part of it had to do with me finding some allergy medicine that worked. The other part was making a difficult but conscious effort to just calm the frak down. Then I was able to make up with my wife, get some chores done and work on feeling balanced. Eventually I felt more in control of my whole situation.

If only it were this easy.
If only it were this easy.

The reality is most control is an illusion. I just need to find better, more constructive ways of dealing with irritations. I need to deal with issues head on instead of letting them build up. I need to mitigate my emotions rather than keep them dammed. I have to accept I am a work in progress and pay better attention to the “under construction” signs.

Growing pains.

I prefer my curses the old fashioned way…

A friend once told me, “It’s an ancient Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times.’” Curse or not, it’s true. We do live in interesting times. In my grandmother’s lifetime the world went from horse and carriage to space travel. We found better ways to kill. We found better ways to heal. The biggest advent I believe is communications.

For the first time, humanity is connected in real time. Every continent and every country communicates in video and audio simultaneously. I don’t think we (humanity) were ready for it. It happened too fast. We haven’t overcome xenophobia. Racism. Classism. Whatever-ism. Suddenly we are all in the same room trying to figure out how we all fit in. Like high school with nuclear weapons.

So much anger.

Take the recent uproar over a very distasteful video about the prophet Mohammed. One really crappy video done in very poor taste by an obvious bigot. Throw it into the internet. The entire Muslim world erupts. People die. Embassies burn. In the west, we denounce the video but still uphold its inherent quality of free speech (however hateful it may be). In other countries, they say we should put whoever made it to death.

Global communication explained: NO TOUCHIE!

For the first time, we CAN all talk to each other. We just don’t know HOW to talk to each other. Our technology brought us together. Now we’re all standing around not really knowing how to get the party started. Forget being in high school; we’re suddenly at my first 8th grade dance.

We live in interesting times. It shouldn’t surprise us. The world has always been interesting. There has always been war, protest, catastrophe; every single century since we started keeping records. The only difference is we are now globalized and have a 24 hour news cycle. When something happens, we know about it instantly.

Prophet?

Every generation complains that the next generation is going to hell in a hand basket. People cry out that we are living in the end times. We dream of a somehow lost “golden age” where life was more simple, pure and free from all our modern day problems. Reality check; this is complete fantasy. Old problems were solved, new problems took their place. If there was ever a golden age, we’re living in it now.

Instead of cursing ourselves, we should embrace continuous change and own it. We have to be strong, innovative, and willing to make the hard choices to earn the right to be a global society. Bob Dylan has a song: “Times they are a-changin’.” I believe this song rings true as much now as it did in 1964.

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

Start changing.