We live in a universe of hazard, a place where asteroids strike, where car smash-ups pluck out a life like a boot squashing a centipede, where planes fall out of the sky, a heart attack takes a brother from behind in the middle of a night, a train runs over a friend’s passed out daughter, a truck runs over a fallen bicyclist girlfriend, where heartbeats blinking on a screen one day vanish by the next. (I won’t go into the personals of any of these; the asteroids, in my life at least, remain fictitious.)
When these events happen, meaning-craving beings like us seek an explanation, a story to give us some way of accounting for them. Sometimes the explanations are there — because the world is thickly networked and the connections leading from one thing to another are fairly evident (this thing led to that which then led to that), or they can be reconstructed through some pattern-observation and model-building, which is essentially what science does. But even when the hows are evident, the whys remain elusive. Most of us carry around maps of why — god-stories that make sense of anything with a little tweaking: it’s divine punishment or reward, a trial to make one stronger, some kind of karmic compensation for past misdeeds (back to the latter in a moment), a conspiracy of “them” or my own eternally recurrent failure, “that’s how it was meant to be.” These why-stories are like nests built out of twigs and branches and leaves. Some are built stronger than others. Some turn into multilayered, convoluted architectures capable of accounting for anything, as long as we focus well beyond the twigs and branches and leaves that disintegrate when we stare at them too closely.