“It's not fair!”
How often have you heard your child say that? How often have you comforted her when it rained on her soccer game; when she caught the flu on her birthday? We tell her that things will even out, but we keep our fingers crossed. We know that, when it comes down to it, life is not fair.
Here in Charlotte, a banking center, we will hear a lot about unfairness during the next few weeks and months, as the financial meltdown vaporizes savings, retirement accounts, jobs. But at least, in the financial arena, we can round up the usual suspects, and assign blame: Human greed, human stupidity. Knowing who to blame – having a legitimate target for our anger – may not fix the problem, but it makes us feel better.
In the vast scheme of things, though, there usually isn't anyone, or anything, to blame for misfortune. Einstein said, in a very different context, “God does not play dice.” But the world we live in does. Being human, we want someone, or something, to blame. Often, there is no one. Nothing. Matthew wrote that God sends rain on the just and the unjust, alike. Ambrose Bierce defined prayer as asking that “the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.”
My brother knows unfair
On the day he got the diagnosis, my brother, Jack, was told that he had a rare cancer most common in smokers and drinkers. He has never smoked; he tried once at 15 and got sick. Other than a beer or two in college, nearly 40 years ago, he never drank. It wasn't fair!” If living the good life doesn't grant you some exceptions, why be good?
He demanded to know why this could happen; he wanted someone or something to blame. And so he harangued a very patient doctor, who waited until he had wound down, exhausted emotionally into rationality. The doctor pointed out that now, for whatever reason, my brother was fighting cancer. This did get my brother's attention. The doctor added that he would need all of his emotional and physical strength, and the blame game was an emotion drainer. Jack needed to focus on the job at hand. Blame is distracting.
It took a great deal of effort, and a great deal of time, but Jack's resentment of the unfairness of it all was pushed away to a place where he would “deal with it later.” Where he was was where he was. What got him there had no more relevance than moondust. It was now, “get through each day.”
But Jack's personal sense of the unfairness of it all was as nothing to the unfairness he saw on the ward. Children. Children crying each night that they will never “be bad” again. Children with a heightened sense of how unfair their tenuous life was. Children watching television and seeing other children playing and laughing. Perhaps the worst were the perky, cheerful few, bald-headed but glad-hearted, that Jack was told had “odds way worse than yours.” It's not fair.
It was Jack's sadness to watch a full life ebbing, and then an empty room. He was in his mid 50s when they found the cancers. He had lived a life. For these children, this was just cruel. It wasn't fair. It wasn't fair to the children; it wasn't fair to the parents, who as a general rule were more of an emotional wreck than their kids.
Fair... those were Jack's odds. 0ne in three. But he is here (so far), while others with better odds are not.
It's not fair.
Pray for strength, not fairness
And of course, there are the nurses. My brother still cannot fathom the strength required to be there day in and day out, especially if you don't have to be there at all.
He asked a male nurse about being on the ward, late in his treatment. The nurse thought a minute, and simply and patiently said, “Not everyone gets hit by a bus. If I can make someone's last few months that much better, I've done something. If I can make many someones' last few months better ... it's hard, but I'm better for it.”
That nurse lasted only another few months in the cancer ward. The unfairness of it all compromised his idealism.
Fair is a human idea, after all. It's built in our genome, to allow us to be a social species. If I treat you fairly, you will treat me fairly. But the universe at large is not fair. It plays by very different rules than we mortals devise for ourselves. All we humans can do is help each other to get through our short time here. And pray, not for miracles, but for strength.