What do we make of accidents that befall us? Harrison Ford’s plane lies, mortally wounded, on the lawn of a local golf course after being skillfully landed by the experienced pilot. Accidents happen to the best of us as well as to the average Jane and Joe – no one escapes. Accidents, both large and small, are part of everyone’s life at some point.
Planes fall from the sky, just as relationships sometimes do. A person’s health can take a dramatic nosedive, or one’s bank account is critically depleted, the stock market takes a sudden tumble, or a career on the way up takes an unexpected turn downward – sometimes from out of the blue. These experiences often happen without any warning at all. Being wise and being smart and being careful do not seem to provide ultimate insurance against those things that can literally or figuratively drop right out of the sky.
Are accidents random? Maybe. Do they have meaning? Possibly. It’s always somewhat subjective whether we say that everything happens for a reason or not. Was it pilot error or a mechanical failure, or was it an “act of God?” Is an illness recently diagnosed the result of unhealthy behavior or a mutated gene gone haywire? When a relationship we really cared about goes south, despite our best efforts, is it something I did, consciously or unconsciously? Or is it just bad luck?
These questions have no absolute answers. If they did, someone would write a book about it, and it would be the final word – we would all rush out to purchase it in a flash while the author retired richer than a small country to a secluded island in the Caribbean. But so far, that book has not been written. And so we are left with our own subjective answers in order to find meaning when life goes awry.
It is, however, worth the effort usually to take a philosophical approach towards accidents that befall us. There is ample documentation in the narratives, the novels, and the religious accounts of those who have succeeded in transcending ruptures in their journeys. Buddhists tell us, for example, that suffering in life is not an option. Learning, however, to minimize one’s suffering certainly is optional through the practices of mindfulness, meditation, and the development of loving-kindness. A delightful poster depicts a bearded Yogi riding a surfboard on a huge ocean wave. The caption below states delightfully, “If you can’t stop the waves, at least learn how to ride them!”
Also, it is often the case, though not necessarily, that accidents that seem to throw up brick walls to our efforts at progressing through life may also may be timely detours toward hidden, yet-to-be-revealed rewards. Our vision in the moment of disruption is limited to the immediate scene: the loss, the pain, the brokenness, the hopelessness of our felt sense of demise. Only with 20-20 sight a year later or five or 10 years even, do we see that the brick wall was ultimately transformed into a portal of hope and success beyond our limited mental capacities at the time of said accident. I would not trade now, for example, an ounce of temporary promise for some or maybe all of the accidents that have happened in my life, as I review them through the rearview window of my mind. What seemed disastrous at the time eventually became a path hidden in a tangled forest that opened, slowly but surely, into unseen vistas of new life with time and with one other factor….
Consciousness. What seems to make the difference in whether an accident is an objective tragedy or a subjective experience of mystery and hope is what we refer to as consciousness — the capacity to see with the eyes of intuition and wisdom rather than the eyes of literal facts. Of course it helps to have each other in the midst of these times. Particularly is it useful to have the eyes and the ears and the compassion of wise mentors, life coaches, pastors, counselors, and shamans. They’ve been there. They have studied the sacred texts that address the realities of accidents and human pain and suffering. And they are always there to hold the beacons of hope as we wander, haltingly, towards a distant but sure light.