As a young reporter, just making my way into the grown up world, I shared a house with three other flatmates. One of them was older and wiser than the rest of us, and thus both inspirational and terrifying. We were sharing a glass of wine and he told me that he has spent the first months following three major catastrophes in his life in a state of shock, with the question ‘why me‘ churning away inside him. But gradually he came through the pain and the grief, and the gift that he carried out the other end was ‘why not me?’ Impressionable youngster that I was, I vowed that should life ever turn dark for me, I would be as noble and wise as my flatmate.
But when I lost our first pregnancy I forgot his wise words and was lost in sea of angry recriminations; to my God, to Life, to Fate, and yes, to those closest around me. I felt deeply hurt, offended and although I knew it wasn’t ‘nice’ to say it out loud, I still cried out ‘why me’ in the darkness of my wounded heart. My flatmate’s wise words a world away from my experience.
From ‘why me’ to ‘why not’ is a process
Think of someone you love and cherish, someone who is going through a particularly hard time. Do you think to yourself ‘why them?’ Sometimes there can seem to be practical answers to the question, especially to outsiders. The woman who keeps choosing the same type of destructive partner. If she cried ‘why me?’, your tongue might be itching to explain… My miscarriages could be explained, by a medication my mother had taken during pregnancy, to sheer bad luck, but of course that doesn’t satisfy the questioner.
‘Why me’ doesn’t really want an answer, it wants to express, just as Viviana does in the song cycle La Viviana, that it hurts, and it feels unfair, and you don’t know who to blame. Existentially, it is the randomness that seems the most unfair.
We like reasons, we like to make sense of things. We need cause and effect to feel safe. Yet we also need to be able to sit with ‘why me‘ for long enough to understand that bad things happen, even to good people. My journey from ‘why me?’ to ‘why not me?‘ took me a very long time. And it involved a review of some very naive assumptions I had made about spirituality and religion. As long as I kept my nose clean, prayed nicely, and, as Viviana says ‘helped old ladies crossing the street’, that I would somehow be protected. After all, bad things happen to other people, right?
Fate’s mocking response to Viviana is exactly about that naive notion that some of us get to escape life’s tragedies, while others suffer and fall. Not that we would wish it upon anyone… but … and it becomes a tangle of old assumptions, pain, and new insights… that gradually lead to the realisation that in life shit happens, to all and any of us, and that it is only through our attitude that we can affect the eventual outcome.
There is nothing wrong with asking ‘why me?’ as long as we have the courage to follow our own reasoning through to the bitter end. My flatmate had made that journey, and through La Viviana, I am hoping to share a little of my own.