I was recently talking to my friend Gayle Pazerski and I realized her perspective on life might really benefit this community of badass, nonsense-free, trailblazers. She is an actor, writer, teacher, mother and all around hilarious observer of life. Y’all, meet Gayle. I hope she’ll tell us more stories in the coming months:
On a gray February day in 2016, I was browsing the home goods section of a TJ Maxx and came across a discounted canvas embellished with the words EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON in a bold, faux-handwritten font. I took a photo of it and posted it to Instagram. “I almost bought this just so I could back over it with my car,” reads the caption. I stand by it.
I was fresh into a separation from my husband of 16 years at the time, so you might think that’s why my worldview was sour, but that wasn’t the case at all. Yes, my separation (and the divorce that followed) was hard, but that particular philosophy—along with its equally insufferable cousin, “it is what it is”—has always bothered me. Every time I hear “it is what it is,” my knee-jerk response is something along the line of “TV-Mature words,”* so I usually just take a deep breath and let it kill me a little bit inside.
I know they’re both phrases meant to bring a sense of peace and purpose in times of uncertainty or struggle, and I’ve definitely uttered them both myself throughout the years. “Everything happens for a reason” was of particular comfort when I was younger. The world and the future seemed so big and so daunting to me when I was in my 20s, fresh out of college and wondering where in the hell I belonged in life. Believing that everything happened for a reason gave me a way to trust that it will all be okay, no matter how many monumental mess-ups I made along the way. And you know what? That was absolutely correct: it really would (and did! and will!) shake out fine no matter what happened. I was going to survive it all. But all that stuff happening for a reason? HARD NOPE.
Here’s the thing: when you assign “reason” behind all the big, awful things (or just small inconveniences) that happen in life, you completely suck all ownership and personal power out of the situation. Not only does it imply that there’s some universal force being a TOTAL DICK to you and gifting you a terrible car accident or dying friend for some vague “reason,” but it makes you entirely passive, as if you just have to sit back and let the misfortune wash over you at will, in the hopes that someday these reasons will be revealed and it will all be worth it. To which I say, GARBAGE.
Sometimes people get sick. Sometimes you screw up and get fired. Sometimes unspeakably bad things happen to incredibly good people. The very existence of Children’s Hospitals is a testament to the fact that life is balls-out unfair a great majority of the time, and you know what? There’s no possible reason for that, as far as I’m concerned. And the moment I let that be the truth is the moment I stopped being so afraid of life. If I give power to some arbitrary reason why things are happening, then that’s just power I take away from myself.
Does this mean bad things don’t happen to me? Of course not. But now I choose to focus on how I will get through it, not dwelling on the fact that it’s happening in the first place. I might not be able to control what life throws at me, but I sure as hell can exert some control over how I handle it. Sometimes I handle it well—like when I forgot a MAJOR piece of equipment while catering a fancy wedding yet somehow managed to pull a solution out of thin air so that the bride (and her very pushy mother) were never the wiser, but sometimes it’s train wreck-level ugly—like when someone demolished my parked car hit-and-run style and I sobbed in the parking lot of a Panera for 45 minutes before managing to call my insurance. But I handle it. I live it. I come out the other side. And when I get through it (which I always do, and which you always will), well…that’s one more thing I know I can survive.
And—damn—isn’t that something.