In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.
-- Benjamin Franklin
We will all eventually suffer the same unavoidable fate that lies six feet beneath us. Of this I am sure. We all must pay our dues to the government while we're here. Of this I am also sure. But Benjamin Franklin left out a key fact of life in his often repeated and reassembled quote.
Bad things happen to good people.
For many of us, this is an incredibly difficult truth to swallow. We have been lured by the idea, either consciously or unconsciously, that if we're good, moral, caring people we might somehow be able to avoid the reality of tragedy and despair. Unfortunately, history and life tell us a different story. No matter how much we give back, no matter how much we help others, no matter how much we care about making the world a better place, bad things will continue to happen to good people.
Tragedy is an unbiased, nonpartisan participant in the world we live in. It can befall the best and the worst of people, and anyone in between. It does not care who the grieving widow is. It does not pay attention to the desires of the empty cradle owners. It does not bother to get to know the innocent bystanders of violence. Like death and taxes, bad things will happen to good people. Of this I am sure.
So what are we to do in a world where we can't earn safety and protection from the realities of life? One of my favorite quotes is from the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by author Donald Miller.
He said to me I was a tree in a story about a forest, and that it was arrogant of me to believe any differently. And he told me the story of the forest is better than the story of the tree.
This world is an enormous forest and we are but a tree within it. The story about the forest is much better than the story about the trees, and so it goes with humanity. When we focus on the fact that bad things happen to good people, we lose sight of the fact that infinitely more beautiful things happen every single day as well. The homeless man is given a chance at a job and a roof over his head. The barren couple receives news of a miracle pregnancy. A group of kids comes to the aid of a classmate being picked on. An alcoholic breaks the bonds of addiction and lands back on her feet.
These are the stories of the forest. The story of humanity as a whole making strides to become a better people and create a better place. When we lose sight of this we are like the person holding a penny in front of their eye to block the sun. We cannot control death. We cannot control taxes. And we cannot control bad things happening to good people.
But we can control our focus. We can take a step back from the penny and view the enormity and warmth of the sun. We can take a step back from the tree and view the complexity and beauty of the forest. We can continue to give back. We can continue to put others first. We can continue to care. For that is a story I can be a part of. Because the story about the forest is much better than the story about the tree.