We tend to ask ourselves this question when life hits us with unexpected disaster or misfortune. It can be a really useful question, or it can become a destructive obsession leading nowhere. My Mother used to have an annoyingly stock answer whenever I asked “why Mummy?” Presumably it was her defence against the continual pestering of a curious toddler. She used to reply; “because Y is a crooked letter that can never be straightened”. It holds an element of truth, but what helps us humans get through life’s trials and buffetings, is our ability to find meaning in events.
In the larger scheme of things our situation may be utterly impersonal and meaningless; it just is and no amount of analysing will change it. If we are prone to victim thinking we can take things too personally, convinced that persecution or conspiracy is at work. Of course “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you”, and I would hate to dismiss some people’s situations. It must be terrible to endure the kind of powerlessness and persecution that indeed does take place in the world. However, when I was younger and prone to low self-esteem and adopting the victim position, everything seemed to be a deliberate conspiracy and my fault. Thankfully I grew out of that kind of self-punishing delusion.
Back in the eighties I was involved with cancer patients, right at the start of the alternative thinking about disease and holistic approaches to treatment. The “you created this, so you can uncreate it” approach. Conventional medics swore this would only make patients feel guilty and blame themselves for being ill. Unfortunately there is that danger and there can be a deal of confusion and patronising glibness in the spiritual “We choose our reality” type– theories. However, the other side of the argument is that it empowers people to do something about their situation.
It is so easy to cast judgement and each individual has different needs. There are instances of people who have miraculously cured themselves, but equally the answer to healing is not necessarily the obvious one. There are instances when, invariably in hindsight we realise, yes this awful experience did have a purpose. I never forget one of my lowest periods when I truly believed I had failed and was wasting my life. One or two made the classic comment that there is a purpose to everything. At the time I could have cheerfully slapped them. Later, much later, I came to recognise that this seemingly wasted period was indeed a profound turning point and healing.
So why is it useful to ask ourselves the question, Why me? Why has this happened? There may be historical answers; personal, familial or cultural. Maybe there are psychological, social, genetic or environmental factors that support our understanding, or highlight much needed changes. Sometimes the why challenges us to find the best response to what is happening, and perhaps this is the crucial bit; the creative, spiritual challenge that lends meaning and growth to our lives. It challenges our entrenched beliefs and assumptions. We may or may not be able to change our circumstances, but we can gain strength, wisdom, adaptability and resourcefulness. In our search for meaning we can become our human best and there can often be a price to pay for spiritual growth.
I was listening on the radio to a famous Australian poet Les Murray who, when young, had a breakdown and slept rough. His poems from that time were astonishingly beautiful. I always find myself returning to the Serenity Prayer and its familiar quote, ‘Grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change what I can and wisdom to know the difference.’
copyright Rachael Clyne