The world can be a scary place. Every media outlet brings us fresh news daily to affirm this. Violence, pain, injuries, death - poignant stories that make it seem as if the earth and humanity cannot even coexist anymore.
Take natural disasters, for instance. The recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile have just underscored the violence that Nature can have. The victims can be young or old, rich or poor, hardworking folks or bums. There seems to be no discernment (except in the case of richer areas that have built stronger buildings). I’ve heard recent stories of lobstermen who’ve drowned in the ocean, campers lost outside who’ve died from hypothermia, skiers who’ve perished in avalanches. Areas in drought need rain for crops while other regions are overcome with disastrous flooding and mudslides. I know one verse in the Bible that has been interpreted as saying something like all of Nature is standing on tiptoe to see what the children of God will do....and these days I keep thinking that it might be said that all of God’s children are standing on tiptoe to see what the natural world is going to do - for it seems like a losing battle.
Added to the above are the tragedies inflicted by the biological world of our bodies. Disease is everywhere - again, striking no one in particular and everyone in general. From cancer killing young kids who have barely lived, to Alzheimer’s crushing the once vibrant minds of our elderly - there is no sense of fairness or justice. And let’s face it - the tortures of the mind and spirit can be as devastating as the tortures of the body.
Although it is probably true that we have contributed to these tragedies by our choices involving how we treat our planet and our unhealthy lifestyles, the bottom line is that a lot of life consists of unfair calamities beating us to a pulp, unexpected, undeserved, with no meaning whatsoever. This thinking is the origin of the infamous bumper sticker delicately translated as “Crap happens.” No way around it. You can maneuver good to come out of the situation, but you can never explain why it happened in the first place.
All in all, the world is full of strife and suffering. Whether it’s ourselves, our loved ones, or somebody we read about in the newspaper, we’re all affected and despondent. If natural disasters and disease were the only powers trying to bring us to our knees, that would be one thing. But the list does not stop there.
As if there weren’t enough suffering already, we seem to insist on adding to it. I’m one of the most accident-prone person I know. I’ve cut the skin off my finger when peeling potatoes, slipped on an olive-oil spill on the kitchen floor while carrying a pot of pasta in boiling water, “burned my face off” with fire starter and had to be taken to a burn center to be treated - all because I was either moving too fast or wasn’t paying attention. These are called accidents because they aren’t done with purpose or malice - they just happen because we’re not aware of our surroundings or thinking about other things. Some are just inconveniences and others are pure tragedies. I’ve read one too many horrifying stories of parents accidentally running over their own toddlers as the parents backed the car out of the driveway, assuming everyone was accounted for. It’s bad enough to cause an accident for oneself, but I can imagine the heartbreak a careless moment can create if it involves someone else as the victim.
Of course hurting others physically by accident is not the only way we inflict injury. We do the same thing with our words. Because we don’t think of the consequences or because, again, we are just not paying attention, we let words slip that can never be taken back once spoken, and we have unwittingly contributed to the lowering of someone’s self-esteem or said mean or hateful things that it takes a second to say but years to regret. I would bet we have all done this at one time or another.
First, nature’s indiscriminate fury - leaving us feeling helpless. Next, our own accidental contribution to the grief of our world - preventable. Finally, there is the pure evil around us - those who lack some kind of compassion or moral compass or whose greed or hatred or quest for power dominate their lives and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process - also preventable because they are human choices.
As I’ve contemplated the state of the world this week, the word "preventable" kept coming to the forefront of my mind, and my whole spirit is agonizing over what we have contributed as individuals and members of the global society to our own grief and suffering. And, as my favorite prayer states, “Help me to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I can, and have the ability to know the difference,” I want to renew my personal goal of changing what I can - paying more attention, focusing, avoiding mistakes and accidents, being a presence of joy to the world (and myself) rather than bearer of pain, and in this journey I am praying that we all try to cut the preventable suffering in our lives. Lord knows there’s enough we’re stuck with from the get-go.