This I Believe

steven - hastings-on-hudson, New York
Entered on October 20, 2007

I believe that the world is unfair. I also believe in compassion.

A few months ago, my cousin, David, 53 years old, with three children ages, 12, 14 and 16, was riding his motorcycle on a sunny afternoon when he slid on some gravel causing him to careen into a tree. He died instantly. I thought of David’s children, his wife and I I thought of David’s father and mother, in their eighties. I wanted to explain to my kids, what I believe about a world in which such a random and sad accident can change everything in an instant. I wrote to them:

“How do I believe and maintain a sense of place and purpose in the world without believing in God? I feel many of the same yearnings that lead anyone to experience something larger than themselves. Whether its called God or just some sense of “even though we cannot really understand it all, there is a vast connectedness in the universe that may transcend rationality and is sublime in and of itself” or something like that. I even understand why churches and temples might trigger those feelings – symbolism, song, tradition, fellowship, etc., – all are very evocative. At the same time that I embrace those good feelings of fellowship, warmth and purpose, I often feel fearful and horrified by the unfairness of the world. I find it hard to hold onto feelings of contentment and sense of place and purpose when, for example, innocent people are murdered, get sick prematurely, are born addicted to crack, etc. (I could go on with a long list of sad, unfair and senseless things). I suppose there is nothing necessarily inconsistent with spirituality in a world where “accidents happen” but I really wonder about that. Accidents of the kind that happened to Cousin David, do make me think that the universe is random and chaotic, unfair and horrible – not purposeful. I guess I believe more in the reality of that struggle than I can believe that it all does make sense or is compatible with theology. When we were in Tibet last year, I asked people there about this and they addressed it by saying that for them the meaning of spirituality is “compassion”. That answer makes sense to me and is as good as any other I can find (for me). I should add that the Tibetans believe in and practice compassion much more than I do and I admire and believe in that. Maybe that is why even though I do not go to Temple or Church I do believe in morality and the “golden rule” and do have a sense of place in the world. I do not know if that provides any comfort but as you get older you may think about these things more (I know you already have thought about them) and you will reach your own conclusions about what is right for you. “