When I was very, very little — probably as soon as I was noticeably taking purposeful action like, say, crawling — my mom would tell me why she was doing what she did. She actually did this across the whole of her day as I was growing up, but she particularly told me why I was (as we now say) being redirected.
Eve had never been a fan of “because I said so,” which was common when she was growing up. She figured if she had a reason — and she always had a reason — she might as well share it. Who knows, maybe the other person would get on board with her reason, and she wouldn’t have to bring it up again?
So in my early world there were always reasons that went with, “Don’t do that!”
And then there was a day — I was a toddler by now, perhaps as old as two? — at my beloved Granny’s house. Eve loved Granny, her mother-in-law, too… respected her, tried to emulate her.
When Granny told me “no” that day (as was right and proper!), there was no why. Just “no!” Maybe even a “because I said so!” And I burst into tears, not my usual response.
In that moment, Eve decided she needed to mix things up. The world beyond her-and-my bubble would not necessarily offer me a ‘why,’ and she wanted me to be at ease in a world that still said, “just because.” Besides, connections with my grandparents were important, which meant my learning to adapt to them.
Eve told me this story many times, probably starting when I was middle-school age. I would guess it was — obliquely? — her confirmation that I had adapted before and so could adapt to the world again; I struggled with that in middle school.
I think I learned something else from that, though. Or it planted the seed, cracked the jar for something that got bigger as I lived my adult life and practiced my Christian faith:
there are all sorts of things I am not going to know ‘why’ for.
Things that I am desperately curious about. Things that puzzle me; things that I can’t get to make sense. Things that bewilder me. Things that somehow exist as plain fact when I would rather they didn’t.
Sometimes I find it helpful to assume God, transcendent, knows why. Mostly, though, that makes no difference to my own lack of ‘why’ in the moment.
I have to breathe, set it down beside me, and continue on.
I hear Kate Bowler’s book Everything Happens for a Reason: and Other Lies I’ve Loved is an appealing exploration of this, but I’d arrived there before she published and so haven’t yet picked it up.
My ferocious, mischievous, laser-sharp mother, Eve, died September 1, 2022. Of stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosed not even two months prior. Her energy propelled her to exercise and to volunteer as a stalwart in her church’s office. Her sense of rightness pushed her to eat following sound nutritional principles, to get all the checkups… to fuss over and about my dad, who tended to postpone doctor visits and wasn’t (isn’t) much for leaving their house. It wasn’t fair to her that he wasn’t taking care of himself! she would complain to me. She would be left to pick up the pieces!
He took the best care he could of her, though. Before her diagnosis, and especially after.
And we — my dad, my sister, myself, and all who loved her — are picking up the pieces.
If there is a ‘why’ to her illness and her death, and I don’t think there is, I don’t want to hear it.
Today, as I was again breathing, and setting down, and preparing to continue on,
I remembered how she taught me to accept a “no” that has no reason,
and helped me adapt to a world that isn’t going to adapt to me.