Has someone ever said to you: “Everything happens for a reason”? The first time I heard this was on a very sad day and – I admit – it was a consolation! But: That didn’t last long and now I think: It’s simply not true at all. This episode is about that specific sad day and why it’s just fine when something happens with no reason at all.
This story happened when I was 22 years old. I had just finished my first ‚view of the world‘. It was around the second peak of the cold war, so it had dark strokes, but the overall look was dominated by bright, vivid colours. Painted with the last mystical feelings from childhood. My first worldview was very nice!
There might even have been a rainbow in the background. And maybe – I don’t remember it well – maybe birds were singing.
Everything had its place. Everything had its order!
This story is sad, because it is about my friend Anna. I met her at art school. She was bursting with energy and at the same time very sensitive. She was witty, funny and eloquent, but sometimes overwhelmed by the pictures in her head.
She was a damn good painter and used colours instinctively and perfectly, without thinking about it. Maybe … I was a little jealous.
We were friends. In a platonic way. And then, almost, in a romantic way, too. Because of all the complicated stuff young artists do to their lives, we almost lost contact.
Until one day her sister called to inform Sabine and me that Anna killed herself. In the attic. Hung herself. Her father had to find her. It was … a devastating summer.
It was a devastating burial, too. Her parents were bracing themselves. They were so calm, they seemed to be unfazed by the loss of her firstborn.
We all know that this is the self-protecting power of shock. Good for them.
There were not many guests at Annas burial, as far as I remember. Sabine and me were the only ones from art school. We had been her best friends for one spring, one summer and one autumn.
I was not protected by shock and wept the whole ceremony through.
My nice worldview was shattered, broken to pieces. What was left of the satisfying order and the childish mysticism laid in the mud, all colours gone.
Only grey and black and blood red. Chaos ruled.
I was completely exhausted and grasped for air, when Anna’s mother came to me and said: „Don’t be sad, Oliver. Everything happens for a reason!“
That’s the first time someone said this to me. I was stumped.
What does that mean? There’s a reason why Anna killed herself?
What is it! Tell me! Simply tell me the reason!
Why can’t you not tell me the reason, if you know it?
Well, there must be a reason somehow.
So I reasoned and jumped to the most obvious conclusion. The first level of reasoning.
The reason she is dead is that she used a rope to surpress her blood supply. And she may have had her own reasons to do so, I guess. Not that I know of. Nor did her mother or her sister or her boyfriend. I know, I asked.
If there was a obvious reason, we didn’t know it. This is by no means giving any solace.
But that is not what Annas mother meant. I know.
That is not spiritual.
At best it’s an Hercule-Poirot-kind of spirituality.
So let’s dig deeper. Let’s go to the second level of reasoning.
Let’s start with a simple fact: There is an endless chain of cause and effect that leads to the moment right now and here. Okay? So, there must have been an endless chain of cause and effect that lead to Anna killing herself.
And it’s not enough taking only her person in account. Everything around her is the result of an endless chain of cause and effect, too.
Even every single molecule of that damn rope was right there and right then because of its own chain of cause and effect.
And not only the rope There was the attic, the chair, Anna, the stairs and the hopeless desparation in her. Endless chains of cause and effect had to be in place.
That’s not even mystical, that’s more or less scientific.
So, yes, everything happens for a reason. A cause. A lot of causes, a lot of effects.
But to discover this reasons is impossible. They are endless. Each reason, each cause we’ll find has it’s own reason, it’s own cause.
So. Let’s take a look at this: The scientifcal version of „Everything happens for a reason“. Does it feel good? Does it help?
Nope. If there’s a reason, woven int endless chains of cause and effect, then … it’s not explaining anything.
I can’t understand it. No one can.
It’s so complicated, that the outcome still looks like … an accident?
Like happenstance. Like chance.
So. Still no explanation for Annas Mother’s „Everything happens for a reason“.
But, ok! I confess: I am playing dumb. I know that is not what Annas mother meant. She didn’t want to tell me that life is a very, very complicated clock work and Annas death was somehow inevitable.
That is not spiritual. At best it’s an Isaac-Newton-kind of spirituality.
Then … what did she mean?
Sabine was there and she explained it to me. Like a teacher explaining something to a very stubborn kid.
Annas death is not without meaning. It’s not in vain. It’s there for us to learn from it. To learn from her suffering and to learn from our suffering.
If we fill this tragedy with our own meaning, if we change it to a worthy experience, then we can grow. We will get stronger and better. We have to integrate her death into our life, so we have a benefit from grief.
That is what Susanne said and I’m pretty sure, that’s what Annas mother meant.
And this helped me a lot. Years ago.
It was the only comforting thought I found, so I took it and made it my own. And if this works for you, if you’re in need for this kind of solac e right now – then grab it, too.
Years passed and many things happened and I grew older and when I look back into my life, then I have to admit: Annas death did change me. The suicide of a dear friend, the experience of loss – it surely changed me.
And, beside that, there’s still a question haunting me in my dreams:
Maybe I was part of the problem? Do I have my share of guilt to carry? Was I one of the many influences that made her depressed?
That changed me, too.
So, in a way, Annas death has had a meaning in my life.
But: This happened in the aftermath of the catastrophe. It’s in hindsight that her suicide has meaning. In retrospection I see how I integrated the chaos that shattered my worldview. I had to start from scratch.
This is meaning. But it’s not reason.
She didn’t climb the stairs and hung herself so that I could have the experience of chaos. This is not true. And making this assumption is the most narcissistic thought you could possibly think.
„Everything happens for a reason“ means: In ten years you’ll lock back. Your pain will be less agonizing. You will have other problems. Life goes on. Obladi, oblada.
But, if you are feeling the pain, this is not helping at all!
That is not spiritual.
It’s an Paul-McCartney-kind of spirituality.
It’s worse than that: It’s the most simple comfort possible.
Hidden behind the surface is the concept of a perfect world. In a perfect world, everything happens for a reason. And everything is somehow related to you. Everything is staged by a loving universe or a father god or a mother goddess. Everything happens to teach us a specific lesson on our way through life.
It’s very easy: Accept that everything is happening for a reason and get rid of chance! Accept that everything is there – especially for you!
God loves you! God is all-loving and all-knowing – how could he have created chaos?
The universe listens to your wishes, how could it punish you with meaninglessness?
The all-transcendence awaits your next reinacarnation. How could it confront you with tasks that are without a chance for improvement?
It’s so easy! Just accept the idea that everything happens for a reason! Accept that there is no chaos at all! It’s all in perfect order!
Everything is planned perfectly, you are just not able to see the bigger picture here!
Rejoice! Don’t be sad – even the most tragic experiences are there to make you a better human being. A better Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim oder just a better … don’t know … better sentient life form. Tada!
There may even be a rainbow in the background. And singing birds.
That is the true philosophy behind „Everything happens for a reason“.
Sounds sweet, but it is bitter.
It is not freeing at all. It’s the opposite of freeing. It will enslave you!
You will end as a lesser being in a perfect world.
You cannot live up to the standards of a perfect world.
Instead you will always feel like an imposter – for the rest of yo ur life.
Especially when suffering is coming. And it will.
Suffering is here, but everything is perfect. So you lost your right to mourn. The possibility to grieve. Your agony is completely unneccesary.
There’s no room for questions, no air for doubt.
That is a perfect design. And that makes it perfectly inhuman.
We are creatures with boundaries in a universe that’s endless. That‘s an experience we humans have since we have a self-awareness.
Every sensation of our nervous system tells us that the information our brain gathered is limited. We know that there is always more to be experienced.
We live a finite life in an infinite universe. We are never wise, clever, intelligent or empathic enough to understand what’s happening to us.
Everyone knows, deep in his or her heart: There is chaos around us!
And it will come and overwhelm us.
When chaos happens, the order will shatter.
We have to accept that we are living a life that confronts us with things we cannot comprehend. From our perspective, with our brains, things seem to happen that. are. not. explainable.
We have to face this if we want to live a full life.
If we want to stay sane, we will have to live through suffering.
We will get humbled by life: There’s no easy way around it.
But „Everything is happening for a reason“ promises to be just that: An easy way around!
It’s like putting your fingers in your ears, pressing your eyes shut and singing as loud as you can, so that you cannot hear your mother telling you the simple truth that you did break her favourite vase. Intentionally. Because it was so ugly.
„Everything is happening for a reason“ is a naive, childlike look at life that defiantly shouts: „No, there is no chaos! There is nothing without meaning! No! I don’t hear you! The vase was very ugly!“
Was that too … ‚sobering‘? It was, wasn’t it?
A little too negative, you may think.
„Face the truth: Suffering waits for you! Stand up and cry like a man! Or a woman!“
Maybe. I could be wrong.
But I think:.
Having no explanation for everything can be liberating. To be humbled is an important experience. Especially in a world that strongly enforces narcissism.
And having no explanation for everything can be beautiful.
Only if we can accept chaos we can begin to experience beauty.
A perfect design is a dead design. Perfect order is inhuman.
A perfect square is the most boring thing in geometry, a perfect circle the most boring thing in art.
Order is important. But it is not beautiful. Chaos is.
If you respect the chaotic nature of life, you can look in the starry night sky – and there is no man made formula to really simulate the chaotic arrangement of stars in the sky – you can look to the stars in the sky and feel … awe!
In this moment you’ll be humbled by the universe and it will feel beautiful.
There is no reason … for beauty. Not everything happens for a reason. The most important experiences you will make simply do not ask for a reason.
The question is irrelevant.
Life is bigger than us, there’s no doubt. And that’s a good thing.
The reason for everything is … life. It’s about life itself.