I love the word why. It is the fuel of learning, the tool of curiosity. Why takes us on journeys and helps us explore things we don’t know or yet understand. It pushes us to find ourselves and develop our own views of the world around us, often, and most importantly, when others have stopped asking it for themselves. It is the key to our liberation.
But, like all things of this world, why has its limits; and if we don’t recognize this reality, why can turn on us.
In the last two months, I have attended funerals for two friends and friends-of-friends, both my age, both died suddenly. One was diagnosed with cancer and died within a month, leaving behind two children. The other was murdered, also leaving behind two children.
Before I had children, I could, in such situations, dive into an analytical hole, intellectualize my experiences and losses in a way that, while not really having a good answer, I could come to some understanding that soothed me as to why. I at least could find a way to move forward. Now, I have two children of my own, and in moments like these, of tragedy and loss, of children left without their Moms, I find the question of why wholly debilitating, crippling. I weep and search for something, anything, to numb the hurt I feel for those children.
I feel like that lost child. I am staring at a spiritual horizon.
At today’s funeral, in brief but perfect remarks, the minister spoke of times “when there is no why.” He spoke objectively about life beyond our comprehension. But, he didn’t do it in the usual ministerial way – this is why you need to come to Church or find God or accept Jesus as your lord and savior - i.e. all the stuff that has pushed me away from the Church. He didn’t try to convince us that murder was somehow a part of God’s plan. In fact, he explicitly called out that sort of thinking and message from the pulpit as “cruel” and “abhorrent.”
Instead, he spoke directly to why we were all there, of the life we were celebrating, the loss we were mourning, and the brokenness we were feeling. He spoke matter of factly, in human terms. He spoke to us in a way that understood and validated the range of emotions, fears, and uncertainty that were flooding our hearts and minds. He told us to own those, to ride those emotional waves. He gently nudged us away from an answerless “why” - not by pushing us into a spiritual void, telling us to hand that all over to God, but by focusing us on things we can control, ways that we can be and live and move forward given our grief.
Why is too powerful a word for these times. It can make us feel powerless.
So, today, I was liberated from the word that has most liberated me. I can see the limit of why, and, at least for today, will hold onto a more timely question: