The OCP Blog

Crap Happens: Some Thoughts on Suffering and Resilience

My firstborn son, Ethan, would have turned 9-years-old on August 31st. He was diagnosed with a fatal birth defect at his 20-week prenatal check-up, and being assured that he was not in pain, Dayna and I chose to carry him for as long as he remained with us. We spent the remainder of the pregnancy enjoying every energetic kick while also preparing for his burial. We refused to shy away from the fact that he was going to die, and we committed to telling the truth to ourselves and to our friends, acquaintances, and strangers.

And telling the truth is what got us through: it was these friends, acquaintances, and sometimes strangers who stepped up and carried us when we couldn’t have done it alone. But we also wrestled with those oft repeated clichés: “God is testing you,” “God won’t give you more than you can bear,” and perhaps the most popular, “Everything happens for a reason.”

One incident stands out to me in particular: one of our neighbors ran into Dayna outside our house and asked how the pregnancy was going (not knowing Ethan’s prognosis). When Dayna told her the truth, the woman replied with “everything happens for a reason,” turned on her heals, and walked quickly away. In my less charitable moments I liken this woman to a frightened squid unleashing a cloud of black ink and making her escape. I don’t think she is a bad person, but this moment taught me that sometimes our platitudes are a defense mechanism, a bundle of straws we cling to when we need control in the face of chaos. But this fearful mindset, while often disguised as courage and faith, can keep us from entering into truthful, vulnerable relationships with others, both when we need to be there for others, and when we need support ourselves.

In my work at OCP I hear many of these same messages, sometimes from the mouths of those who have suffered the most from homelessness, hunger, unemployment, abuse, and family separation, and I worry about the potential destructive effects of internalizing them. If everything happens for a reason, what is it? How many times must one try and fail before one has solved the riddle of life and “passed the test?”

Someone I know says that homelessness is a result of a lack of relationship. Another way of putting it is that homelessness happens when someone loses the social ties that make one resilient in times of hardship. The truth is, crap happens. Sometime it breaks us, and eventually it’s going to kill all of us. Some crap is caused by human behavior, and some isn’t. I’ve experienced the kind of crap that can tear lives and families apart. I just got lucky: I was born with the privileges of a stable, loving network of family and friends, and the access to education, employment, health care, and financing that is readily available to those of my race, gender, and social class. These resources have all made me more resilient when bad things happened to me. Other people don’t have these things, and we meet many of them here at OCP.

I don’t believe there is a higher power who inflicts suffering on us to test us or teach us. I believe God’s agenda is to heal us by restoring the broken bonds of relationship. If there is any test in suffering, the real failure is when we allow someone to suffer alone and unaccompanied, without the unconditional love of others that holds us, reminds us that we are beautiful, and makes us resilient.

Eric Olson-Getty

Director of Development & Administration