Friday, April 20, 2007

We are in the details

When large-scale tragic events happen, I rarely get impacted emotionally. I know that may sound cold, but I have a hard time identifying and wrapping my head around the scale and level of atrocity. It takes me a long time. When watching the news coverage on September 11, I was more filled with adrenaline over the immensity and the fact that I was witnessing an historical event. I couldn’t really imagine that it was real. Real people were dying. Real people were in complete panic.

Maybe it’s because I’m so used to watching the news and watching movies and not associating myself. How can I? I’d be terrified and sad all the time.

But for some reason, this event at Virginia Tech has got me absorbed, has got me relating. There are several obvious reasons for this. I went to a Virginia school. My nephew is attending Tech. I’m pregnant and more emotionally connected to everything these days.

I should say, it’s not just that my nephew attends Virginia Tech. He was there, separated by a brief span of time and a short distance. He walked by Norris Hall only minutes before the shooting. If he had missed the bus, as he almost did, he would have been there right as it happened. Fortunately, by that time, he was in the building next door, safe and sound. My relief and gratefulness knows no bounds. I just keep thinking, I can’t imagine if he was gone. I want to hug him and talk to him and tell him a million times how much I love him. I’m sure he knows this already and probably doesn’t want an excessive amount of hugs from his dear old Aunt, but I feel the hugs. I send them too him, unbeknownst to him.

The fact of his proximity to this event has got me thinking about destiny and randomness. I pulled up the profiles for the victims on, and I was struck by the different stories.

Why these people?
What brought them through time and space to this moment in Blacksburg, VA when they would meet with tragedy?
Why did others come so close and yet survive?
Is it random?
Is there reason?
Why are we lucky while others grieve so deeply?
How is it that I’m going on about my life while others’ lives are standing still in pain? What makes Brad so special to have survived and get to go on about his life?

Does it bring me more comfort to think that there’s a plan in this mad world?
Or is it better that this is random?
Doesn’t the randomness take the power out of what the killer did? He’s the one who said it was something he “had to do.” Was it? Was it supposed to happen?

Or was it just the absurd random choice of a mentally ill man?

Somehow I’m split. I think it’s both.
I guess this is the age-old argument between free will and predestination.

To me, the idea of “free will” doesn’t hold water. I’m affected by so many factors, so many thoughts and feelings and events. That’s why when someone says that God told them to do something; I just think they’re full of crap. How can you know that one inclination toward something is God and not your own personal desires? I know you can try to sort out what your personal desires are and what the facts are and then try to make the best decision possible. But, that is all it is, the best decision a human can make. And humans are full of holes and errors and weaknesses. At least I am. I know that’s a shock. I too am human and fallible. At best, someone can say that they prayed and are making the best decision and hope this is what God wants.

But I also don’t think the idea of destiny or predestination makes sense either. At least, that totally takes the ownership off the individual. “I couldn’t help it.” “I was told to do it.” If we’re part of some master plan and have no real influence on our lives, then there’s no point, no hope and no fun.

I think it’s something like a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book. We get choices and say and our own ideas and influence, but they are all within a finite set of options. That set is very large, because it is affected by the choices and influence of everyone else on the earth. But, it’s still finite. And the less I know of myself and my weaknesses and what I believe, the more those choices are limited. You can trap yourself into a life of mindless following. But that is because you don’t know your own desires, your own thoughts. As you become aware of what influences you, you are more empowered to make decisions. Or, at least, you know what’s influencing them.

The killer was acting within a very limited set of options because he was mentally ill. His choices, while still his own, were greatly influenced by the affect of his illness and the lack of self-knowledge to free him from that trap. It seems to me that to get to that point, he must have long passed the ability to stop and say, “There must be something wrong here for me to be thinking like this.” Instead, he thought he was doing something that he was supposed to do, that made sense in his sick mind. Don’t get me wrong, it was still his choice, and he is responsible for those choices. I just think they were limited, both self-limited and illness-limited. And because of that, he severely limited the choices of others. For some, he just took them away.

Still though, there’s this part of me that does believe in some outside influence, some higher power. Sometimes it does seem like there is some energy that influences my thoughts and desires that is separate from me, something I can’t quite explain. Maybe it is just random. Maybe it’s subconscious – something I saw on TV or something someone said to me weeks ago. I’m leaving the house, and I remember that thing I meant to do last week, all of a sudden, and I take a few extra minutes to go get it from the desk. And that influences where I am at the time of an accident on the Beltway. What was it that “led” me away or toward disaster?

Most people would probably say God. And maybe that’s true. Maybe he is involved in little ways or oversees us all as we bump into one another and influence one another. But, in my experience, and what makes most sense to me considering the facts of the universe, it seems like he’s just not that involved. I can’t imagine that God is such a micro-manager that he’s putting thoughts into my head about remembering to update my Smart Tag or advising me when I should go to the store to get the good deal. That seems completely absurd to me. But it’s those details, those small decisions that can have a massive impact on our lives. But maybe God sets up the general parameters on our lives and lets us sort the rest out. I had things happen to me as a child and have a certain set of siblings and have ADD and am 5’6” and have a bad memory. None of those things are within my power to change. But it’s how I react to them, how I work to change my reactions to those limitations that ultimately affect my little decisions.

Maybe I do believe in God. But I also believe in myself and in humanity.

I don’t think "God is in the details." That's where I think we humans exist.

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