A View of the Universe From the Back Seat

The earthquake in Haiti has somewhat sapped my desire to try and be funny here. The level of suffering just seems so overwhelming, the devastation so horrific and the loss of life so unfathomable that I find myself at a loss. A disaster like this reminds me what a cold, merciless place this world can be, where the most downtrodden people in the hemisphere are given an extra-fat portion of affliction. If Pat Robertson’s god is truly behind this, then to paraphrase Shalom Auslander, that god is a real prick.

Mel has been suffering through a really awful week following some oral surgery.

(Notice how quickly I can return to form and describe Mel’s pain and discomfort as “suffering.” And she is miserable. As miserable as the people in Haiti? Not by a long shot. But the way we people are built, that knowledge is small comfort once the Vicodin wears off.)

Anyway, I have ended up doing more of the pick-ups and drop-offs of the kids this week as a result of her convalescence. The other day, as I was driving the kids home, I reminded them that they should be quiet when we got to the house because Mommy was probably sleeping and we didn’t want to wake her up. It was at this point that my children stumbled into a great philosophical debate between fate and free-will.

Chickienob: Mommy’s not feeling well because she had surgery?
Me: Yes.
Chickienob: She had surgery because she didn’t take care of herself?
Me: Well, it’s not that simple.
Wolvog: Everyone has to have surgery.
Chickienob: No. Mommy hurt her gums the doctor said.
Wolvog: Everyone has to have surgery.

The Wolvog believes this because he has in fact had surgery. A minor procedure, but one that required general anesthesia and left a scar that I’ve told him to say he received in a knife fight. Cuz girls like stories like that. He always rejects my suggestion and says he will tell people that he had surgery. It’s made an impression on him, and somehow he has concluded that surgery is unavoidable. And indeed for him it was. He has taken that experience and generalized it to the universe.

The Chickienob, in part because she likes to tell on her brother and in-part because she has no scars, believes that there must be a cause and effect to something painful like surgery. If you’re having surgery, you’ve done something to deserve it. Or at the very least, if you take care of yourself, you can avoid surgery.

And the conversation went like that for a few minutes.

Chickienob: I’m not going to have surgery because I take care of myself.
Me: Well, honey you can take care of yourself and still sometimes need surgery.
Wolvog: Everyone has to have surgery.
Me: Not exactly. If you’re lucky you might not ever need surgery.
Wolvog: (emphatically) Everyone has to have surgery.

By the time we reached the front door, the two parties were no closer to abandoning their extremes of fate and free-will to meet in my gray middle. Somewhere between getting the kids out of the car and unlocking the door I had a moment of panic as I thought about what was happening in Haiti. On the Wolvog’s side of the argument, there was no way they could avoid what befell them. On the Chickienob’s side, perhaps if the country hadn’t been scarred by colonialism, poverty and shoddy construction they would have been better prepared and the devastation would not have been so great? On the Wolvog’s side, there’s no saying that there isn’t some disaster (natural or man-made) waiting around the corner with the potential to devastate our own lives every bit as much as the victims in Haiti. But maybe the Chickienob’s right, and in addition to the good luck of being born in the richest country in human history to parents with the means to keep her comfortable, we are making our own luck?

I want the Chickienob to be right, but can’t shake the feeling that the Wolvog is closer to the mark. In the end, everyone has to have surgery.

I’m praying for the children, the mothers and fathers, the sons and daughters of Haiti tonight. Why I should pray to a God that lets this happen I don’t rightly know. She/He/It may not be to blame, but I’m not ready to let them off the hook either. The unfortunate reality is, when you have the impulse to pray, you’ve got to go with the God you got. A pretty lame answer to my kids, but the best I’ve got to offer right now.

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