Content note: Cancer
For a while I tried to avoid macros that used sunsets as backgrounds. They are pervasive, but not in a particularly funny way.
Frankly, a sunset seems like a solid choice for making a quote feel more substantial when you haven’t really examined the implications of what you’re saying but it seems deep af.
There are just too many pithy quotes that have gone the sunset route, though, and I concluded that it’s more challenging to avoid them than to accept them.
I tried to come up with a pithy* shorthand quip to simultaneously acknowledge and dismiss the cliché, and it was surprisingly difficult. Here’s what I ended up with:
“Nice sunset, asshole.”
When my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I didn’t find myself wondering, “Why did this happen to me?” nearly as much as I wondered, “Why did this happen to him?”
There’s a slight, strange comfort in the agony of asking that unknowable question.
I appreciate the short answer that there is no simple, single reason, beyond that he was a human, and humans die.
It’s more like the comfort of bracing one’s back against a cold wind, rather than the comfort of retreating into a warm shelter for some hot cocoa.
Shortly after Dad died, a person in my small hometown offered me condolences and said, with no other preamble, “It’s really a blessing, though, isn’t?”
I understand that they meant well, and were struggling (as we all do) to offer appropriate words for unspeakable pain.
But the direct leap from “I’m sorry for your loss” to “It’s really a blessing” stands out in my memory as the worst** thing anyone said directly to me during that time (though there are certainly other close contenders).
The unwillingness to sit with the discomfort of ambiguity forces an even more uncomfortable narrative of intentionality.
This kind of dismissal of grief seems like at least one outcome of replacing “why is this happening” with “what is god trying to show me.”
Reframing is a skill, and there’s nothing wrong with looking for growth opportunities in difficult circumstances.
But that’s not a reason to stop asking “why” questions.
There may not ever be any grand, universal answer as to why a specific terrible thing happened to a specific person, but there are likely structural and systemic reasons that identifiably contribute to any given tragedy.
I trust that religious folx are able to create beautiful, substantive, and thoughtful things.
Art, architecture, arguments, image macros, and more.
This kind of unselfconscious self-centeredness, which underlies so much of contemporary American Christianity, creates fertile soil for powerful institutions to deflect attention from themselves through victim-blaming and rationalization.
Of course your perspective changes when you stop trying to understand how things work.
It’s way easier to say “God is showing me things that are good for me to see” than it is to accept, “Many support systems are so fundamentally biased that some groups people are bound to suffer severe negative consequences” or “This is one of many possible outcomes of a confluence of circumstances, and it may not have happened for any grand ‘reason’ at all.”
The advice in this macro is to not focus on yourself so much, and yet you accomplish that by “realizing” (not “choosing to believe”) that an omnipotent, omniscient deity manipulated the world around you specifically with the hope of teaching you a valuable lesson.
That way, it’s your responsibility to accept that you have failed to discern the divine purpose behind your own suffering, and as a bonus you won’t even have time to question your government for allowing humans to die as punishment for not having hoarded enough dollars.
Sure, sometimes weak rationalizations look better in front of a sunset.
And sometimes the reasons “why something is happening to you” are nonexistent, and sometimes they’re utter crap, and it’s okay to feel unhappy when you notice that.
*Yes, yes, I see the irony.
Also, I am still figuring out the best way to handle footnotes in WordPress. For now, I am literally just using asterisks, and I hope to make it better in the future.
**Specifically, this was an unpleasant thing to hear from a person with a presumably Christian background (it is a very small town). In the lovely Jewish practice of saying “May their memory be a blessing” to mourners, it comes through clearly that the person’s memory is the blessing and not their actual death.