The word “normal” will be a long time returning to those in the path of Superstorm Sandy last week. Lives were lost, many made homeless, power is slow to be restored in multiple areas, schools disorganized, mud and debris cover formerly lovely neighborhoods. Hardest hit, as always, are the poor and the disabled. Cold weather has moved in with more storms, increasing the misery and danger. It’s just awful.
Right after the storm, the blogosphere exploded with “Blame God for Hurricane Sandy” articles and posts. I don’t suppose this should be shocking: it all fits with the “Divine Butler-god” that I’ve written about before. As long as we get what we want (good weather for weekends, sports events and campouts) then God has been nice and obedient and fits well within our god-definitions. But the moment things go wrong and suffering results, we quickly decide God is capricious and evil.
Recently, I have been rereading Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning.
Frankl, a psychiatrist, was one of the few who survived Nazi Germany’s unimaginably horrific concentration camps. He described how many, both prisoners and guards, became nearly totally dehumanized by camp conditions and culture. Those sub-human ones lost all capacity for caring about anything but themselves, and freely inflicted horrors on others.
But a few became bigger in soul, not smaller. They retained their power to choose how they would respond to a system that tortured and dehumanized them.
Ultimately, Frankl realized, they no longer asked, “What do I expect from life?” Instead, they began to ask, “What does life expect from me?”
In a culture like ours, drowning in consumer choices and never-ending enticements for more, be they pleasures, riches, gadgets, time, luxury, protection, or comfort, we tend to stick with the “What do I expect from life” question.
We are inevitably deeply disappointed.
We will never have enough because that mindset keeps us in the bottomless abyss of needing more. In our disappointment, many blame “god” for falling down on the job, seeing ourselves as helpless victims of this capricious, evil “god.”
When we ask, “What does life expect of me?” and particularly when we are able to word it this way, “What does God expect from me?” our perspective may change.
First, we begin to realize we have no right to insist God order the universe for our comfort or protection.
Second, we begin to see ourselves as participants in the outcomes, rather than victims of the circumstances. As a participant, my choices, limited as they might be, still matter hugely. I may use my choices to respond courageously and with a generous, well-formed character, even in suffering.
I ache for the people that have been harmed, made homeless, and suffered much loss in the wake of these storms. Everyone involved has been traumatized. Lives will not ever be the same.
Some have already become less human. They have looted abandoned homes and businesses, disregarded the needs of others, and concentrated only on themselves.
But others, deep in their trauma, ask, “What DOES God (or life) expect of me here?” These people are emerging as true, and usually unrecognized, heroes. Even as they seek their own survival, they are helping others as it is possible. Eventually, some will look at the death and devastation and see hope and resurrection. Ultimately, perhaps, they will need less and give more, freer, lighter, and unafraid.
This storm happened. Storms always have, and they always will as long as the physical universe is in existence. I wish they didn’t. I’d like all of us to be comfortable and safe. However, I believe we can find real meaning in this and every other storm that comes our way only if we choose participation in the healing and the learning process that comes from it.