Why me? I’m yet to meet anyone who hasn’t asked this question at some point in their life. Most people who come to me with their saga of suffering say, “Why is this happening to me?” It’s a natural question; we all have wondered about it. Let me share with you a little story.
Arthur Ashe (1943-93) was a budding tennis player with tremendous promise. With 33 career titles including 3 Grand Slams, he was a world no. 1 player in 1968. At the age of 36, however, he had a massive heart attack while he was holding a class on tennis. This was particularly shocking because Arthur was as fit and agile as any other star athlete in the world. The same year, he went through a quadruple bypass surgery. His lifestyle as he knew it was over. He had to take things easy, no more hopping on the court and so on. He came to terms with it.
As if this wasn’t enough, soon after the surgery, Arthur experienced paralysis in his right arm. Further tests revealed that he was HIV positive. It was most devastating because Arthur had contracted this disease for no fault of his. His physicians concluded that the blood Arthur had received during his second bypass surgery was HIV infected.
Soon, letters of sympathy started pouring from fans and other people from all over the world. Many people asked him, “Why Arthur? Why you? How could God do this to you?”
The athlete, though a little afraid of what the future held for him, replied undauntedly and stoically:
“At least 50 million children take up tennis worldwide, and less than 5 million get any basic coaching. Out of those 5 million, only about 10%, or 500,000, learn professional tennis. No more than 50,000 play in Circuit A. Some 5000 compete for the Grand Slams and barely 50 make it to the Wimbledon. Exactly 4 people make it to the semis and only 2 to the finals. No prizes for guessing that only one person gets to lift the cup. Only one winner.
“All these years, the success I had and the cups I lifted, I didn’t question, ‘Why me?’ When God blessed me with victory and happiness, I never asked why me? And now when I’ve contracted this disease, on what basis do I challenge? Why why-me now?”
Often it’s only in our dark moments that we really ask why me. We may wonder about why me in our good times too, but this wonderment is not the same as it is when we are down. We don’t whinge when the weather is sunny and pleasant. We may exclaim but we don’t complain. Deep in our hearts we believe that we deserve all the good that is happening in our lives, that we have earned it.
People love me because I’m so nice, my company pays me so well because I deliver, I inherited wealth because I was born in a wealthy family due to my good karma. But, when people don’t love me, it’s because they are ungrateful. I’m not paid as well as I should be for no one appreciates my work. I didn’t inherit a penny because my parents didn’t have their act together. And so on. You see the disparity?
To half the expenses and double the celebrations, two marriages were held in a certain family at the same time. Their daughter was married off to a doctor while the son married an artist.
“How’s your daughter-in-law?” someone asked the lady of the house after four months.
“Gosh! Don’t even know where to begin,” she said, exasperated. “Whole day, she sits at home twiddling her thumbs. Every week she has to go out to dinner. She uses only specific brands of cosmetics. She pushes my son to spend his money on her clothes and vacations. She’s a real pain.”
“That’s awful,” her friend sympathized. “I hope that at least your daughter’s happy in her new home.”
“Oh, she’s having a gala time!” the lady said, her eyes lighting up with joy. “My son-in-law treats her like a princess. He never lets her work, takes her out for dinners and movies every week, buys her only nice branded stuff. In the last 4 months, they’ve already been away 3 times! She couldn’t be happier.”
We conveniently change our perspective to suit ourselves. With this limited and self-centered view, we can never be happy. By self-centered, I don’t mean selfish or only concerned about ourselves. Instead, I’m using self-centered to imply that we hold too high an opinion about ourselves, we give ourselves excessive self-importance. Most of us think that we are smarter than others, our work is too important and that somehow we are indispensable. We will never know the answer to why me with this narrow viewpoint.
Further, and more importantly, I can tell you after reading a ton of Eastern and Western religious and philosophical texts covering all the major world religions and philosophies that nothing really provides an answer to this question. Everyone has a theory but no one has any answer. Karma, past life regression, astrology, clairvoyance, psychics, absolutely nothing and no one can give you that answer. Here’s why:
For prolonged period in intense meditation, I have reflected on this question to find an answer, some insight. The truth is there’s no answer, there’s no insight other than that we control practically nothing. Beyond a few aspects of our own lives, we have little say in anything at all. While Nature operates on a phenomenal scale with ruthless precision, there is also a baffling, even disturbing, randomness to whatever happens to us and around us.
Even with all the right karma, intentions and choices, you can end up on a hijacked plane that’s going to turn into ashes in the next few minutes, or you could be in the building working sincerely where it’s going to crash. You could find yourself in the clutches of an abuser, a rapist or a robber. A drunk driver could ram into your new car you were driving carefully, following all the rules, leaving you injured beyond recovery. A car you’d bought with your hard earned money, a body you cared for all these years. Damaged. Beyond repair.
I’m not saying that there’s no truth to the law of karma, but as I mentioned earlier too, it’s not be-all-end-all in my view. It’s not the answer to everything. Not everything that happens to us in our life is because we did something wrong (or right) to deserve it. There’s no why or why not. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Crooks become leaders. Saints are abused and sinners are garlanded.
Most of what we go through is no doubt affected by our choices and actions, but sometimes somethings just happen randomly. It could be a life-altering event or something completely insignificant. As far as Nature is concerned, it’s just a tiny occurrence. Most earthquakes don’t last more than a few seconds and yet thousands of lives are destroyed. Even a road accident happens in a fraction of a second. In the eyes of Nature it’s just one event, even if it has lifetime’s repercussions for you.
In other words, Why me may be skillfully handled by a theory, some consolation, in reality however, it has no permanent answer. The sooner we accept this, the happier we become in life naturally.
I’m writing this post sitting under a peepul tree with heavenly breeze blowing. Some plants are waltzing while some are swinging gently. A dog, content after eating 8 pieces of bread (laden with cream), is sitting next to me. Three mongooses are playing close by and the other four are scuttling about in search of food. A cat is intently looking at its prey: a bird perched on a low branch. The sound of the murmuring river is constant like the cycle of nature. Some flowers seem happy, others seem more neutral. The fluttering leaves, as if cheering the triumph and strength of nature. Every few minutes a leaf falls from the tree and lands on the grass. Some leaves dry and well past their age are still alive and attached to the boughs while some green ones have fallen. Why?
There’s no why.
Nature is living its own life. Like cats, dogs, trees, stones and rivers, we too are mere tiny cells in the universal body. Limited existence in a limitless creation. Timed stay in a timeless home. This is the play of nature. Hauntingly beautiful and unknowable.
So is this life; an unscripted play. Play happily or otherwise, play we must. The show must go on.