In planning my lesson for our 7th grade novel, I’d toyed with the idea of framing the whole book — and perhaps the year — to center around these questions: Why do good things happen to bad people? Why do bad things happen to good people?
The protagonists in our novels this year are, by turn, a bully attempting to reform, a distraught girl exacting revenge on her best friend, a social outcast hero, and Anne Frank.
It would be very logical to bring these two questions to bear on these books. But as I think into it further, I wonder if the answer I want them to arrive at is too prescriptive: “Because they do.”
There was a time after cancer when I felt that, because my understanding was that I had in some ways brought leukemia on myself by denying who and what I am in the world, in remission I must act in ways that wouldn’t bring down that wrath again. So, I joined a band, began singing, got real headshots, auditioned, flopped auditions, got cast.
The two years after cancer (following a few months of emotional whiplash: “You’re going to die! … Wait. Looks like you’re not going to die. Good on you. Bye!”) became a flurry of activity, in part to embrace that I was alive and in part out of desperate fear to be in that circumstance again.
At some point during those two years, I was on the phone with a mentor describing my terror of “not doing enough” (even before cancer, “wasting my life” was my biggest fear…and remains up there today…). I said to her that if “G-d” was trying to send me a message to engage in my life, will “G-d” do it again if I slow down? I was perpetually haunted by this question.
So my frientor (friend/mentor?!) told me this: “Maybe you need to take G-d out of the equation.” Less G-d, she said.
Less Fate, less scales in the balance, less sword of Damacles. Less notching up good and bad, useful and harmful, actions toward live Molly and actions toward dead Molly.
This was a huge relief to me.
It was important at the time of diagnosis and treatment to dive into the idea that I could effect some change on my circumstance. And, it became important after remission and treatment to absorb the idea that maybe it didn’t have anything to do with me. Maybe it just “was.”
This, is a very tough pill to swallow.
In a world where we (I) do much of what we can to exact control over our circumstances, to accept the belief that we’re not at the mercy, or benevolence, of a force outside ourselves — a force wherein “things happen for a reason” — can be unmooring.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes good things happen to bad people.
Sometimes “it is what it is.”
I don’t yet know if and how I’ll bring in these questions to my students. Are they useful questions? Or do I have one aim, which is to bring the idea that sometimes they just do?
The present book they’re reading (The Thing about Jellyfish; great book, go read it [Thanks for the rec, Marie!]) is an entire attempt to grapple with the question of “Why?” and itself comes to the conclusion of “Just because.” So maybe it’s a question to hold up for them for this novel, to help us all see that, while our actions do have consequences, sometimes things do just happen, too.