When “Bad” Things Happen to “Good” People

Today marks the forty-first anniversary of my mother’s death. I was seven years old when she suddenly passed away from a pulmonary embolism.  She was due in June of that year, but the pregnancy caused her blood to clot, ultimately cutting her life short when the blood clot lodged in her lungs.  This event began a streak of “bad” experiences that occurred over my lifetime that would bring some people to their knees. Being divorced certainly could be considered a “bad” thing.  But is it really?  It sucked sometimes going through the feelings, giving up the dreams, but it’s changed me in so many powerful ways, too (and now I am married to the Love of My Life–my soul mate!). 

All of the “bad” things that have happened in my life helped shape who I am today.  I look at all life challenges as learning opportunities in disguise.

After my almost fifty years of living (has it really been that long?!), I’ve witnessed some really “bad” stuff happen to some good, decent people. For instance, if you’ve been following the story of Joey + Rory, you’ll know that this couple, both singers, have been struggling these last few months with Joey’s diagnosis of ovarian cancer.  Her life ended on March 4th.  She leaves behind her beloved husband, 2-year old daughter (who has Down’s Syndrome–which to me, I view as an Earth Angel–but aren’t we all in some way or another?), and 2 older step-daughters.  A talented singer (recently nominated with her husband for a Grammy Award), who seemed to have a very loving relationship–it doesn’t seem fair does it, to have a full life cut short by an aggressive form of cancer?

Maybe you’ve heard of Malala, the Pakistani school girl who was shot in the head because she voiced her opinion about girls being allowed to have an education in her country (something we take for granted here in the United States). Being shot is certainly a “bad” thing that happened.  She could have remained silent from then on.  She didn’t.  She grew from her experience and is now an inspiration to millions.  She is the youngest person to win a Nobel Peace Prize (BBC News, 10 December 2014).  

In my daughters’ school, a football player’s life was cut short when he suffered a head injury in a game and died suddenly. His parents are now trying to implement new rules for concussions and safety for the game. 

“Bad” things happen.  I am putting “bad” in quotation marks because it is relative.  There’s all kinds of “bad” that means different things to different people. “Bad” to one person could mean that they grew up in a war zone, while “bad” to another person means that they struggle in their adult life because they always felt their mother favored their brother over them. “Bad” doesn’t have to mean “bad.”  Here’s what I mean:

It isn’t necessarily what happened to you–it’s what you do with it.

It could be bad at the time, but turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to that person.  Things happen that are not in our control.  What is in our control is our reaction to them.  One of the quotes that I love–and held dearly during my almost-3 year divorce, was “Suffering is not seeing things the way they are” (now I want to say that Stephen Cope wrote this in one of his books, but I’m not sure.  I want to give someone credit for it, I just can’t remember who said it).

In 1978 Rabbi Harold Kushner published a book called, wait for it….”When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”  I have not read it, but while we’re on the subject of giving people credit, I will give him his due.  I don’t know what the book’s about, but he probably writes about what I am writing here.  “Bad” things happen–they will happen, they did happen, and they might be happening in your present life.  Life happens.  Without sorrow, difficulties, challenges, and the like, there would be less joy.  Think about it:  doesn’t happiness feel so much better when you can compare it to your dark night of the soul or some challenge that really stretched you to grow and learn? 

fairy tale ending

Growing up as a girl, I read a lot of fairy tales.  In some ways I relate so much to Cinderella–but my Prince Charming came after a horrendous divorce.  Maybe your fairy tale is having a different story line than you wanted or expected.  Time to change the ending.  We are the creators of our stories.  “Bad” things may happen that are out of our control, but we have the power to interpret these things, see them through a new filter, and to create a life story that is empowering. 

We’re only given a short time here on this Earth to enjoy it–how can you make the best of any situation?


BBC News (10 December 2014). Profile:  Malala Yousafzai. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-23241937

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