Everything Happens for a Reason?
“Everything happens for a reason.” People say this all the time, and I never really gave it much thought—until December 14, 2012, when a deranged psychopath walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and executed 20 innocent, beautiful children and six brave educators who had devoted their lives to teaching and caring for them. I sat in shock as I watched the news reports. I cried. I mean, I really cried. It was the saddest thing I had ever heard of. It’s so sad and it’s so horrifying that it defies description. I have two wonderful daughters and a sweet little granddaughter. As a Dad and a Grandpa, I can’t even imagine what the families of those children must be going through. I can’t imagine what was in the minds of those beautiful little six- and seven-year-old babies as the terror of the situation unfolded… and engulfed them one by one. There are no words. There are literally no words!
After December 14, 2012, can anyone ever again say, “Everything happens for a reason?!” That this happened for a reason?! If they can, then I think there must surely be something wrong with them—with their thinking—with their heart and their belief system. This was senseless. This was pointless cruelty at its worst. It was purely evil. No deity or “higher power” would have caused or allowed such a thing to happen, much less would they have caused it or allowed it in order to teach the rest of us a lesson of some kind. Happen for a reason? Hell no!
It seems to me that the idea that “everything happens for a reason” would suggest a predetermined and possibly unchangeable path of “destiny” of some sort. That there was a “higher power” at work in Newtown, Connecticut—actively orchestrating and directing the path of events—actually causing or purposefully allowing this unspeakable tragedy. This is something I simply can’t accept or believe in. Especially when such beautiful, innocent people are hurt for NO reason.
Certainly, everything happens because of (or as a result of) one or more reasons, but I do not believe that anything happens for a reason (i.e., as a necessary “precursor” event that will allow or cause the next event to occur in a “predetermined” sequence that was “supposed to happen,” or as a so-called “teachable moment” for the rest of us). No way. The people in Newtown, Connecticut were not supposed to die like this. No! Things happen “because of“—not “so that.”
So why did this happen then? It happened because of one or more failures in the mental health system. Because of one or more failures in the school system (the shooter’s school while he was enrolled in the public school system). Because the shooter’s mother either didn’t recognize dangerous warning signs, or she didn’t take them seriously enough. Because the shooters mother had several guns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the house and that she had spent copious time at the shooting range with her deranged son actually training him to operate these weapons with a certain amount of skill. Perhaps it happened because of his mental disorders, or his social ineptitude, or the personal choices he made throughout his life, or built up anger at his mother, or feelings of isolation, or maybe because his father wasn’t involved in his life as much as he should have been. The numerous investigations into the shooter’s life will probably reveal much about why this happened. Remember, tragedies such as this happen because of… not so that… This did not happen “for a reason.”
Nothing happens “for a reason.” Nothing happens, “so that…” There is no “higher power” directing the events of our lives and leading 20 perfectly innocent little children’s destinies on a collision course with a murdering psychopath. No, the future is completely unwritten and fluid, and how things turn out is largely up to us—individually and collectively. Events simply occur/cascade through time as the result of previous events and circumstances, natural forces, and human influence, and part of the trick seems to be (through our individual and collective choices and behaviors) to effectively manage/minimize risk in order to prevent bad things from happening if we can, and to maximize positive outcomes by trying to make good things happen at the appropriate time in the sequence of events (within our lives, or within our areas of influence)—if we can. (We protect our personal honor so that…, We go to college so we can…, We lock our doors at night to prevent…, We don’t take drugs because…, We try to be responsible, involved citizens so that…, We choose our friends wisely so that…, We are faithful to our spouses because…, We wear our seat belts in case…, We put a fence around the pool to prevent…, We don’t drink and drive because…, We enroll our children in a safe school where they can…)
Sadly—unfortunately—tragically, we can’t account for all the possibilities (due to natural forces and, of course, the choices and influences of other human beings) and invariably the unexpected will occur. Sometimes, the horrible and the tragic will occur. And often, it seems there is little we can do to prevent the next tragedy in a free and politically polarized (and therefore, paralyzed) society, but that’s the fault of our manipulating, power-hungry politicians and a topic for another discussion.
Fortunately, some good can always come from even the most tragic situation; as can meaningfulness if we are willing to look for it. Positive change can come—if we are willing to set aside our personal biases, ideologies, and agendas and work together for the common good. Something positive coming from a horrible tragedy may give the appearance that “everything happens for a reason,” but it doesn’t really. No, we are just shaken from the busyness of our lives, and for awhile, we pause… and refocus… and reflect… and grieve… and for a time, hopefully, we unite our hearts and try to work together for something better. Something better and safer for the children.
So please don’t say that, “Everything happens for a reason.” No one is killed by a drunk driver “for a reason.” Catastrophic natural disasters don’t happen “for a reason.” Human slavery and genocide don’t happen “for a reason.” Mass starvations and deadly pandemics don’t happen “for a reason.” Hopelessness, despair, and suicide don’t happen “for a reason.” Precious little children aren’t abandoned or lined up in a classroom and executed by a psychopath “for a reason.” To say that “everything happens for a reason,” is to say that those 20 beautiful children and six brave educators and their families were meant to suffer this fate—that some “higher power” preordained it—that they never even had a chance; and that… I refuse to believe.
To the victims: You were beautiful and lovely human beings. You did not deserve this. I cried for you again today. My heart breaks, as I think of you. I see your faces in my mind. You were all much loved by your families and your friends. Now, you are loved by the world. I am deeply saddened that you are gone, especially like this, but I am inspired and moved by the great courage and sacrificial love shown by six wonderful teachers who perished trying to protect their students. Thus, beauty and hope endure. You will never be forgotten. Rest in peace.