When bad things happen to us which we think we don’t deserve, we often find ourselves saying, “Why me?”
It’s really more of a statement than a question. Why me? Life isn’t fair. When the basement floods, when the cat throws up on the living room carpet, when you’re late for a job interview and the Eisenhower is a parking lot because of an accident, bad things happen to good people.
Life isn’t fair, and we’re doing an injustice to our children if we teach them to believe “it’s all good.” The lament “Why me?” is the legitimate cry of victims of life’s injustices. The families of the nine people killed in a Bible study group at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston know the pain of the unfairness of life. So do hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and the people of France who welcomed thousands of them with open arms. They have a right to cry out, “Why me!?”
The victim side of “why me” is part of honest living in a fallen world. Sometimes, to put it in the vernacular, life sucks.
But there’s another side of “why me,” which is important to keep in mind as we prepare for our Thanksgiving celebrations, and it goes like this: Have you ever had the experience of kind of floating above yourself and looking down — in my case, at this 5-foot-7, balding, 68-year-old guy with blue eyes — and marveling at the sheer fact that you exist?
Especially when it could have been so otherwise. Why me? Why do I exist? In this body, in this family, with this job, in this country? Why me? It could have been so otherwise. I could have never been born or I could have been born in Syria.
If one side of “why me” is the victim side, the other side is the abundance side, pressed down and shaken together abundant life. So your basement floods and you moan like a victim “why me” and then you volunteer at the homeless shelter and humbly say, “Why me, why do I have it so good?” Sometimes life isn’t fair in the sense that we receive a whole lot more than we deserve.
The last time I helped serve a meal at the emergency shelter, I talked to Amy Morton, the volunteer site captain. When I asked her how working at the shelter changes her perspective on life, she replied, “There are a lot of people here at the shelter who had everything going their way, and they became homeless. For me it’s ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’ It makes me grateful for my safety net, grateful for my family and all the connections I have.”
Phil Jimenez talked about the abundance side of “why me” by saying that he is where he is in life because of the randomness of “genetics and geography.” That is, he is who he is because of genetics — being born with a certain set of genes that determine IQ, physical attributes, skin color — and because of geography — being born in a country where he was able to go to college instead of running for his life from a country descending into chaos. When he started his new job as the director of the Y, he shook his head and said it could have been so otherwise. His parents were immigrants from Mexico. “Why me?” for Jimenez, is a cry of gratitude.
Life is unfair, in a bad way and in a good way. We have some control over what happens to us as we go through our three score and 10 — 70 years if we’re lucky — and there is a lot that we don’t deserve, for good and for ill.
If you want to get your head straight regarding this “why me” business, spend a few hours at the Progress Center for Independent Living. Horacio, the director, is blind. Larry, who works as an advocate, is in a wheelchair and his speech is even harder to understand than mine. Sara is kept alive by a portable breathing machine attached to her wheelchair.
Those folks know both sides of “why me.” On the one hand, life didn’t give them a fair deal. On the other hand, Horacio, Larry and Sara are all professionals working at fulfilling jobs and making a difference in the world. Sara has two master’s degrees, and Larry laughs at my jokes. These folks know how to celebrate gifts as well as mourn losses.
I’ve experienced the two sides of “why me” in my life many times. When I started having the symptoms of the neurological disorder that made me disabled, a condition that is progressively getting worse, I cried, “Why me?” I was a victim. I didn’t deserve to get this affliction. Then, when Dan Haley learned that I was no longer working as a pastor, he asked me if I wanted to write for the Review and the Wednesday Journal part time. One more time I said, “Why me?” but this time it was out of gratitude for one door being opened after another one had been closed.
Tomorrow is a day to focus on the second side of “why me,” the random goodness that comes our way in life which we did nothing to earn or deserve. Religious folk call it grace. Those who are not religious call it good luck. Either way, take time tomorrow to marvel at the good things that have come your way with little or no effort on your part.